By Yẹmí Adésànyà
It was work that dragged me across the coast of West Africa in delightful week-long bouts of adventure, each country exhuming different parts of me long hidden beneath the lacquer of a time-guzzling occupation. Some ports were more enchanting than others, workload and available time was not equally indulging, and thus my impressions are naturally skewed in favour of cities where my schedule permitted extra-metier experiences.
My journey started with Ghana, a colonial sibling of beloved Nigeria. Accra felt just like home: a buzzing commercial centre, invoking the unfortunately familiar and tiring spirit of boisterous vehicular traffic congestion, co-witnessed by hardworking street hawkers. My hotel was only a stone throw from the office, in Ring Road; there was not much time to play, I therefore did not see much of Accra. Ring Road is largely a business district, but my daily commute offered a view of the residence of one of the top opposition politicians, with campaign banners and billboards clearly marking his territory. So one might say the area is partly residential too.
Any city that reminds me of Lagos meets with a kind of languid resignation and apathy, the kind in which I steeped for the duration of my visit. I got a lousy shot of the state house (although my driver was not sure it was safe to take these photographs) and a stationary armored tank, but no other sense of adventure or curiosity was piqued in me. I made a mental note to opt for a hotel in a different part of town when next I visit, as I prefer relatively less densely populated spaces, with minimal noise. I was later rewarded on one of these trips with two West African cities that felt like heaven to my Lagos-suffused soul.
An interest that seemed of inexplicable significance, to my lunch buddy anyway, was a matter of immense national pride which I had made a mental note of witnessing, and documenting my observation and verdict. Many Nigerians have taken part in at least one light-hearted debate on the staple continental dish – Jollof Rice – and I had too, before my trip to Accra. I thought the Nigerian Jollof was better, just because, of course, but I had no objective evidence in favour of my bias. I had ample experience with the Nigerian flavor, and wanted to taste the Ghanaian, to have some closure. Well, I achieved that.
During my week-long desk-bound sojourn in the city, I was condemned to a food-evader’s utopia of monotonous lunch at the Swiss School, chiefly because it was close to the office, plus time did not permit any exploration anyway. I ate Jollof Rice in Ghana, and it was flat, and unlike the pill Posner took in Ibiza, no high followed. It was the second most unjollofesque rice I have ever eaten. Almost completely tasteless, inadequately seasoned, and what it lacked in tomatoes and salt, it made up for in excess pepper. As if that was not enough disappointment, the Zobo drink I enjoyed with my first lunch had taken on a more pungent taste by day two. Zobo − the popular drink made by boiling dried calyxes of the hibiscus plant flower−is big in Ghana, I was told by my colleague. What he forgot to mention was that it is not always harmless. The variant I was served on the second day shocked my palate to astringent displeasure and reminded me of the need to pay a closer attention to food labels in the future. Spicy ginger does not belong in Zobo drink!