It was hell, but I found myself in Accra

2009-09-19 13:47

I AM not travelling in West Africa just to say been there, done that, when dinner talk turns towards that part of ­Africa.

I am here looking for something. What? I still don’t have the faintest clue. What I do know is that this has long stopped being a trip. It is now a moment in my life.

It is a moment when the girl who left Joburg on June 23 last year is starting to feel like a woman – the kind of ­woman I aspire to be. I respect myself even more now for what it has taken me to be here.

I started clueless. I was in a French zone speaking next to nil French. I was also as disorganised as I seem ­destined to always remain.

I also arrived with romantic expectations. A kaftan-clad yours truly walking majestically along the streets of West Africa, living her dream and apparently the envy of some, doing things like crossing the River Niger and thus traversing history and geography as you do going to Timbuktu.

It sounds fab on paper but first something had to give and when it did, I lay in a bed in Adabraka, a location in Ghana’s capital, ­Accra. Not for the first time I wondered who I was trying fool in saying I was ­aiming to travel the entire continent.

Six weeks into this experience I decided I was going to quit – even after all the “I am going there” noises I had loudly been making.

I was feeling out of my depth. Travelling broke is not as much fun as I make it seem.

I also had a fever that had me near psychotic. It was not malaria yet my joints were getting hacked, my lungs getting ripped apart and everything in me was in utter pain.

I was alone and in need of comfort that I was just not going to get. My self-pity was not helped by my dire accommodation situation.

The YWCA in Accra has scarred my memory. The rooms at the dimly lit hostel were tiny and crammed with three-bunk beds that would not look out of place in a prison cell.

And there was rule upon rule too. No men, no fans in the bedrooms and no getting loud unless at one of the four church services held on the premises.

I was in a godly place that even had a handwritten ­poster asking if we remembered “to thank Jesus 2dei” though there was no sign in sight about keeping the shared ­toilets clean. I was in hell and to me that hell was symbolised by the open sewers, the muck and smells and, you know, the tyranny of the place.

This was not what I had signed up for. I felt gatvol and sent at least six emails to a long-suffering travel agent inquiring about the first flight to Jozi.

The girl I wanted to be was gone. I walked to the back of the yard. It had overgrown weeds and an old jungle gym that a scrawny black cat was lounging on.

The barely white walls had long-faded pictures of Disney characters.

Is this really my life? Most relevantly, did I really want this to be my life?

The answer was it did not matter, so onward with the trip. Things did not get better after that storm but they did start turning. I started really loving being in West Africa. I have never not loved being here but there were days when being here felt more like hell than heaven. It changed though.

I got on the bus to Accra on Wednesday morning – my third trip. Again I was a different person to the one I had been on previous occasions. This time I was very sure of this: a little faith – think mustard seed – goes a long way. And if that’s all the girl I was needed for the woman I want to be to emerge then may I always be this woman. A woman who gives herself the chances she wants.

So this moment will last all my life. Because one thing is sure: this trip has long stopped being about the ­Africa stamped in my passport. It’s now in my soul.

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