Sunday, 14 April 2013


Butre beach
Stirring myself from the sun lounger at Fanta’s Folly, I walk along the beach to Butre, one of Ghana’s popular coastal villages. Small, near-translucent crabs scuttle towards their holes in the sand as I pass; they pause on the edge, waiting to see how close I will get before disappearing from view.

Across the wooden bridge that spans the river between the beach and the village, I wave at a group of teenagers, anticipating a chorus of ‘obroni. But they are too engrossed in their game of damii to notice me.

I look for a path to Fort Batenstein, which sits on a small hill overlooking the village. There is no obvious way up through the haphazard houses, and no one offers directions as I walk through the main street. But at a school on the edge of Butre, a man asks me where I’m going. I answer him; he tells me I need a guide to visit the fort. ‘It’s illegitimate to go without out one’, he smiles. I smile back, deciding not to correct his mistake.

In the village, I soon find the simple wooden shack that acts as Butre’s tourist information centre. The teenage girl outside looks up at me impassively. I ask to visit the fort.
‘OK, let’s go.’
‘How much?’
‘Five cedis.’
‘Too much, I’m not paying that much.’
‘Then you’re not going.’

She grins broadly. I wonder whether she is pleased to have outwitted the sweaty white man, or simply to have avoided a walk in the searing sun.

Instead, I head to the harbour. Men sit in groups mending their nets; they look up and nod curtly, not hostile but indifferent to yet another tourist with a camera trying to photograph their boats.

The children splashing in the water are more responsive. ‘Obroni, snap me’. They strut and pose for the camera, then crowd around to see themselves in the viewfinder. I take a deep breath as then sandy little hands grab at my expensive camera, reminding myself it can be cleaned. ‘Obroni, give me one cedi’ they then ask, an almost Pavlovian reaction to seeing a white person. They don’t seem to really expect a response, running back into the water, and I don’t give one.

Butre harbour
I walk back along the beach and notice that most of the fishermen have discarded their nets. I ponder why, then spot a chalk notice on a board outside a bar: ‘Rubin Kazan v Chelsea, 4pm’. The cheers from inside suggests Chelsea have scored already (I have yet to meet a Rubin Kazan fan in Ghana).

Back across the bridge, I stop for a drink at the Johannesburg bar. The couple that own it pause their argument to serve me a chilled Star beer. The toothless old man next to me starts talking in broken English. ‘Visit … photo … leave … drink.’ A hand gesture confirms he wants, or expects, me to buy him a beer too.

I consider whether buying him one would reinforce stereotypes of tourists as cash points, or be a kind gesture to a poor man on a hot day. Then realise I only have four cedis on me. I pretend that I don’t understand him, pay up and leave hurriedly.

On the beach outside, a young rasta leans over his shoulder, smiles and waves. ‘Hey, obroni, how are you?’ A small dark pool is forming on the beach in front of him. ‘Fine, how are you?’ I wave back, making a mental reminder that talking to people mid-piss won’t be normal when I move back to Germany in two months.


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