Oh Accra, you crazy city, you.
Way behind on the updates, of course. Yesterday: morning at g|Ghana, mingling with developers, then afternoon at the Google Accra office, setting up some hardware that our team is going to need for tests going forward.
Part of the fun was running errands. At some point in the afternoon, I was dodging traffic and hawkers, making my way from the bank to the MTN cellular store. A particularly aggressive guy links up and starts doing the “What’s your name, where are you from?” routine. Yeah, I’m Pablo, great to meet you, I’m really busy, I can’t talk, and thanks, no, I don’t want any trinkets, really. I corner quickly, close enough to the next telephone pole to shake him off, and made it to the MTN store clean.
MTN takes a painful amount of time – close to an hour to buy one sim and activate another. Faster than Airtel, I suppose. Anyhow. Five steps out the front door, my putative buddy links up again: “Hey Pablo – look, I made this for you!” He shoves a little machine-embroidered bracelet into my hand. “See, it’s got your name, and the Ghana flag. Just for you – my gift.”
I know what’s coming next, and try to hand it back as I climb into the car. No, really, I can’t take it.
“Please keep it – it’s a gift. Only maybe you give me a little something for my effort. A gift in return?” I’m trying to get the bracelet back into his hand, close the car door, and not drop my hard-bought sim cards all at the same time, but he’s quick, and he’s done this many times before.
We go back and forth a few more times, with me trying to hand the damned bracelet back, but he works it like those Harlem Globetrotter show games where they bring on the stooge team to act as comic relief. A couple of other hawkers have gathered to watch the game.
Finally, I cut and run – accepting the “gift” means I owe him, but I can’t bring myself to just drop it on the ground. I tell him, at last, okay, but I’m not giving him anything for it, roger? He says, of course, no problem, but maybe I could just… at this point I’ve finally managed to get all my limbs inside and close the door. Not the most elegant escape, it was an escape, and I give myself a passing grade for the exercise.
Dinner: Ghanaian banquet at Tante Marie – the only things I recognize by name were rice and guinea fowl. But it’s all awesome. No, wait – the lightly fermented spongy dough balls? Not so great. At least from my subjective palate. But another evening of hanging out with African Googlers: Ayite from Dakar, Rosemary from Nairobi, Ato and Jeremiah and… I swear, I’ve made so many “I’ll visit when I can” promises that I’ll make George Clooney’s “Up in the Air” character look like a homebody if make good on
half of them. But tell me: who in their right mind would refuse an invitation to Senegal, for work? (Don’t worry Devon, I told him that I couldn’t make the meeting there next month, but got a thumbs up on next year’s, when I might be able to foist kids on grandparents and bring my spouse along.)
Then today: the road trip to Ashesi, and Berekuso village a couple of hours north. That’s a fun story of its own, but I need a bit of time to put it together. And before I can tell you that, I have to tell you this: this morning, heading out of town, we stop in Osu to pick up some supplies for the visit. As Greg and I are coming out of store, bag in hand, I hear a familiar voice over my shoulder, closing fast: “Hey Pablo! How’s it going today? Remember me?”
Yes. I do. He smiles and we shake hands, but I keep my speed up. What I don’t understand is how, in a city of 1.6 million people (yes, 1.6 miiiillion) and a few hundred square kilometers, my “friend” the bracelet hawker has somehow picked up the scent and is on my trail again. He asks whether I still like the bracelet and I move quickly, quickly toward the car. Yes I like it, but I remind him again that I’m not giving him anything for a “gift” that he’s given me unwanted. “No, no, it’s good” he says.
I realize that he’s not expecting anything anymore. He really does smile, and shakes my hand again as he lets me go. I can tell by his eyes that he’s satisfied, pleased even, as he turns away.
“See you around, Pablo.”
Tonight, he’ll be laughing with his friends over a beer. He’ll have this great story: the look of utter shock and disbelief on that poor American’s face when he popped in out of nowhere and called him by name. And a story like that? You just can’t put a price on it, can you?