In Venice without a Baedeker

March 26th

The soaps here are very big on possession and exorcism. Today the chief’s son was possessed, and couldn’t get out of bed. His mother was very anxious, but luckily the local shaman was able to sort him out.

Off into Kumasi again, to interview the wife of one of yesterday’s interviewees. This is the first time I’ll hear the flipside of a male interviewee’s story, and I’m interested to see if they felt the same way. From what I’ve heard so far, migrants’ wives seem more willing to stay abroad, less willing to return to Ghana with small children. The men usually give a wry smile as they convey this information, as if it were to be expected.

Today’s headline in the Daily Graphic (the newspaper of note here): “DON’T EAT FISH”.

OK then. No fish for me.

Is the Bradt guide today’s Baedeker? I worry as I see copies in every non-Ghanaian hand here. The one place I’ve stayed that’s not in the guide was virtually deserted, it has such influence. It’s the only decent guide to Ghana, which gives it a Delphic quality if you’re trying to get around the country without offending people or getting fully lost. But what do we lose, walking around with our noses in ‘the guide’? what would happen if we all just headed off into the blue? (or red, in Ghana’s case). Of course lots of foreigners are out there doing just that, but the short-termers tend to stick to the worn pathways of recommendation. Maybe I should go cold turkey for a few days and just go with the flow. Then again, how would I find anybody? Oh, the cosmopolitan angst of it all…

On reflection, though, I realise that this is a country where everyone’s following some kind of guidebook. It’s not like Prague or Venice, where the world will only get more interesting as you drift. Here, people and transport make their way through their environment on an established, though invisible, trail system whose signposts are businesses, roundabouts and transport hubs. Without those, in a country with no maps or street names, people’s internal compasses would fail. One interviewee yesterday told me that when he returned after two years, the country had changed so much in his absence he couldn’t find his way around his own neighbourhood. New sections of town had been built from scratch, new highways had been laid, businesses had sprung up where before there were football fields or scrubland. “It’s a developing country,” he said. I hadn’t thought of development that way, but it’s a good angle on what it might mean for people here. I left London for a decade and when I returned I could still find my own neighbourhood. Ghana’s economy is growing at double the rate of the UK’s, and so are its construction plans.

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