Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ghana, The "White Man's Grave"

The United States plays Ghana today in the World Cup. Ghana was a British colony until 1957, called the Gold Coast. Known for its gold mines and for its historical role in the slave trade, in colonial times it was referred to as the "white man's grave" because so many Europeans who visited there died of malaria. 

I actually went to Ghana for a week on business in 2003. We flew into the capital, Accra, and went straight to our hotel on the coast, the Labadi Beach Hotel.  I was told by my colleagues who had been there before that it was "the best hotel in Accra." As we walked in for the first time, it looked to my eyes like a 3- or 4-star hotel in Hawaii or Mexico, with its thatched, peaked roofs and wicker furniture in the tiled lobby.  We checked in and walked straight to our rooms.  Just as I opened the door to my room for the first time, the phone by the bedside began ringing.  That seemed strange to me, since we'd checked in less than two minutes earlier.  But I answered it anyway.  A deep man's voice on the other end informed me in hushed tones that he was an African prince who needed my help because his multi-million dollar fortune was tied up by the government.  If I would just give him $500 to pay off the right officials, his money would be released and he would gratefully split it with me...

Notwithstanding that beginning, I really liked Ghana a lot in the end. Both the place and the people. On the last afternoon of my stay we went out for an authentic Ghanaian meal. The open-air restaurant was chosen in part, I assume, because of it's proximity to the US embassy right across the street, which my hosts noted repeatedly. The only local dish they suggested I not order was the 'banku and okra soup.' It tended to make non-Ghanaians really sick, they said.  Not to worry, I assured them as I ordered a bowl of the spicy red soup anyway, I have a cast iron stomach. I finished the whole bowl, eating it with my hands using the accompanying dough balls called banku as suggested.  (You Tube has a 30 second video of a tourist eating a bowl of okra soup in Ghana that you can watch HERE, if you want to see what this looks like.)  But sure enough, as we left the restaurant I was already beginning to feel sick to my stomach.  Soon I was almost doubled over.  And when we boarded our flight back to London a few hours later, I was too ill to be excited about being upgraded to first class. Before take off, the British Airways stewardess asked us solicitously if we'd like some champagne.  I requested a blanket instead, which I pulled over my head and went to sleep. The next thing I knew, we were landing back at Heathrow. The score? Ghanaian okra soup 1, Me 0.  I'll be looking for the US soccer team to avenge me today in the World Cup. 

No comments:

Post a Comment