PHOTOS: Memorable moments in the humid streets of Accra

If like me you have been lucky enough to travel around a bit, then I’m sure you are familiar with that request to 'bring me something from there'. Some people give you the option to bring anything – which to be fair, only makes your life harder than it already was.
L-R : Our great host Kojo Boateng, Rwanda's Moses Gahigi and the author. / Courtesy
L-R : Our great host Kojo Boateng, Rwanda's Moses Gahigi and the author. / Courtesy

If like me you have been lucky enough to travel around a bit, then I’m sure you are familiar with that request to “bring me something from there.” Some people give you the option to bring anything – which to be fair, only makes your life harder than it already was. Others will be specific with their demands depending on where you are destined. It is these items that countries need to protect for they serve as a key ingredient for the tourism industry. Sometimes I feel if I ever said I was going to the moon someone would ask me to bring back a star for them.

Anyway, once I mentioned that I was heading to the land of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana, I was told to come back with some Shea Butter. The ‘blonde’ me had to ask what it really is since it is not something I have used before although I may have come across the name. I was told it is good for hair. I made a mental note to look out for it. Many times when travelling I try not to Google about the place for those boring listicles of “10 things to do in Accra” or things not to do.

The only thing I checked online for was the type of power sockets and voltage used. In this era of connectedness you don’t want to end up in a hotel room where your cables are incompatible with the sockets.

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Accra's street foods include these tasty roasted plantains. / All photos by Allan Brian Ssenyonga

My journey started with a short flight from Entebbe Airport to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi for my connecting flight to Accra’s Kotoko International Airport. I was heading to Accra for the Symposium on Financial Inclusion that was held at the magnificent Kempinski Gold Coast Hotel, Accra and hosted by the MasterCard Foundation. It was a great event that brought together some of the key players in the global fintech, media and NGO world. The deliberations were so pertinent to the challenges of financial inclusion especially for the poor and marginalised.

A humid city with interesting street names

One of the things I noticed first about Accra was how humid it was. It felt like we had landed in Mombasa or Dar es Salaam. Indeed it was understandable given that the city also lies along a coastline just like the East African ones. The streets appeared neat and well labelled. An observant eye cannot miss to notice the pan African naming theme here. When it is not an African country like Liberia road then it will be a name of an African leader like Gamel Abdul Nasser Avenue.

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Choosing fabrics at Accra's Makola Market.

At the end of the work day, my friends and I would venture out of the hotel to sample what more Accra had to offer to a stranger from East Africa. I must say the good folks at the hotel reception were kind with suggestions of places one could check out. Then of course technology also came in handy as we could order an Uber taxi with much ease. Anyone we spoke to was quick to assure us that Accra streets were safe and we needn’t worry much when moving around at night.

“I do not eat snails, they are slimy”

At the hotel’s restaurant something on the buffet caught us by surprise. While my friend was looking for the famous dishes like Fufu and Jollof rice, we landed on snails. We were not culinary brave enough to try it out and any curiosity that may have existed was quickly extinguished by a Ghanaian delegate who told us, “I also don’t eat those snails, they are slimy.” That was just enough information for us not to dare touch the fatty molluscs at all.

On our first night out of the hotel, we settled for the famous Osu area in central Accra. We had been told it had great night life and indeed it lived up to its billing. We started by ordering some food, pork and yam chips and the famed Jollof rice. Just before we could start eating, I remembered that we did not have enough local currency and we had to notify the manager that the cure for our evening hunger was to be sorted using Trump’s dollar bills. We saved the little Ghanaian cedis (local currency) for the taxi ride back to the hotel.

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What is a coastal town without coconuts sold by the street.

We then sat and enjoyed the live band at The Republic Bar and Grill. The band played some great reggae classics and the audience loved every minute of it. The audience was a mixture of locals and tourists. I loved the feel of the place especially since we were sitting out on the street, eating, drinking and enjoying ourselves. My keen eye could not fail to note the fact that the average Ghanaian looked bigger than yours truly. And for some reason my mind kept trying to box all men into footballers. Don’t blame me because in my books all the famous people from Ghana besides Kwame Nkrumah are footballers. Well some are Azonto dancers but I digress.
 
Kizomba night and the friendly Ghanaian people

The highlight of our time in Accra was on a Thursday night, with most of the work that had taken us to Accra done, everyone was eager to step out and explore the city a little more unreservedly. Just before we could leave the hotel, an old friend of mine, Kojo Akoto Boateng showed up. Kojo is not only a famous radio presenter, he was in Kigali at the beginning of the year and so it was a great moment catching up with him once again.

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Kizomba night at Afrikoko in Accra.

He offered each of us a gift (quality Shea butter and black soap) to carry home before taking us for a brief tour of his workplace, Citi FM. Our group was made up of media personalities from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and a South African while the Ghanaians took charge of the chaperoning duties. We eventually settled for Afrikoko leisure centre where Kojo and his friends guided us on which local drinks to sample together with some kebabs. We needed some meats after a cocktail two days before, that left many East Africans wondering why the bites included no meat.

Afrikoko will remain etched in our minds thanks to the Kizomba dances that were on display. Now if you don’t know what Kizomba is please pause and head to YouTube. It is arguably the most sensual dance I have ever seen. These Ghanaians made it look so easy; it warmed your heart just watching people moving their waists with rhythmical footwork. This dance originates from Angola and I must say it should be declared as Angola’s main export replacing crude oil.

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Land snails are a delicacy in Accra.

If you thought watching people dancing to Zouk music was cool then when you see the Kizomba dance you will have to apologise for your previous conviction. I really enjoyed watching and I vowed to start learning so that on my next trip to Accra or any place where Kizomba reigns, I will be one of the top performers and not merely in the audience. The friendliness of Ghanaians like Kojo really made our stay so worthwhile. Every country needs such people who willingly make visitors feel guilty for not visiting again.
 
Don’t leave Accra without checking out Makola market

Big markets are such a must see when you are visiting a new country. The experience puts you in the midst of the ordinary people and their struggles. We had been told about Makola market and we looked forward to going there to pick up some gifts for those back home. One of my friends wanted fabrics used for making those colourful African print dresses.

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The writer meets Kwame Nkrumah in the form of a beautiful mural at Kempinski Gold Coast hotel.

Another friend wanted head gear like the ones you see Nigerian women donning. It was always hilarious seeing him gesturing to strangers as to what exactly he was looking for. Eventually he saw a lady wearing one and just walked to her and said, “Yes I want this one, where can I get this one?” as he pointed at her head.

The market is quite huge and the fact that we decided to walk from the hotel at around midday when the sun was at its most ferocious did not help matters much. So many things were being sold here including the land snails we had seen at the hotel buffet. At the market they were still alive and some of them seemed to be eager to make an escape. The market is quite crowded and some parts of it had passenger mini buses locally referred to as “Tro tros.”

We sampled some sweet plantain that was being sold on the street as we walked back to the hotel to pack our bags and head back to East Africa. Accra is a nice place and it is one of those that fall in the category of worth returning to. I left with several sweet memories from this place. The good thing is that it is well served by both Kenyan Airways and Rwandair.