It’s a winning formula. When I met Nikki and Sarah at 7am for England v Scotland in the rugby world cup, the bar was already packed with grumpy looking men wearing white or dark blue tops, all clearing up the last of a cooked breakfast. Hungry, I checked the menu … 18 cedis? Eggs cost about 15 pesewas (there ae 100 pesewas to the pound) and Heinz beans 40 pesewas, so either bacon costs more by weight than cocaine or someone is making a tidy profit. I ordered a coffee and toast, a bargain by comparison at 7 cedis.
The game was dull, especially for someone who doesn’t like rugby much, and we were told off for talking by the ‘locals’. And with early kick-offs leading to early final whistles, I found myself in Accra at 9.30am on a Saturday with nothing to do. It doesn’t take long living here to realise that, drinking aside, entertainment in Accra needs seeking out. So I was happy to follow Nikki and Sarah to the Centre for National Culture.
Don’t let the name fool you; this is a market, where unsuspecting tourists are led to be ripped off. Inside the covered part of the market is a maze of narrow alleys, where animated stall owners pursue a hard-selling approach that is uncommon in Ghana. They even block you off in the alleys to deflect you into their stall, like a game of gift-shop pinball. It doesn’t work; the most common response is to quicken your pace, eyes down, and head for the nearest exit you can find.
We escaped to the open area at the back, where the stall owners are happy for you to wander about at your own pace. The dusty wooden sheds contained vivid paintings of village life, carvings of African animals long since hunted out of Ghana, and a collection of wooden penises that was second to none.
The reason for our visit was to collect a West African drum Nikki had ordered, and the young men who made the drums offered us a lesson in how to play them. We tried to mimic their quick hands and rhythms while outside their colleagues carved away on new drums. I desperately wanted to buy one, but they are made with goat skin. A vegetarian dilemma; could they make one from a goat who had lived a happy life and died of natural causes?
Post-lesson, Hannah joined us and Abraham, the drum teacher, offered to take us to the Rising Phoenix for lunch. And so the day descended into a boozing session by the sea. Star beers were sunk, pool was played, we met the Rastas smoking on the plastic-strewn beach, and in the evening we were treated to something we could never have planned – a beauty contest.
The Ghanaian Dale Winton introduced the three contestants competing for the title of Miss Accra, and led them through a series of acts which all seemed to revolve around bum-wiggling. I was too drunk to see who won, but it rounded off a varied take on a quiet Saturday in Accra.