Dan Lawton : Journalist

Out of Accra; Back on the Rack

This is my last post about my experiences in West Africa. To read articles from the past, check out the West Africa archive.

Kunati, an Accra art vendor.

Kunati, an Accra art vendor.

My last day in Accra.  I’ve been here for three months.  In twelve hours, I’ll be on a plane to Germany.  I eat wachi for breakfast.  It costs a quarter.  It’s a spicy mixture of spaghetti, beans and rice.  I used to hate it.  Now I eat it everyday. I’ll miss it big time.

I jump in a sweaty tro-tro and head to Osu, where I meet up with my friends in the vacant lot they live in.  It is the  site of a hotel that was previously demolished.  There’s a huge steel foundation and a wall.  The wall is covered in graffiti.  There are  portraits of Bob Marley, Helle Sellaise, Kwame Nkrumah and Barack Obama drawn on it. There are pictures of lions and a map of Burkina Faso and a bunch of writing in different languages and dialects that I can’t understand.  There is only one phrase in English.

Art is a mission,
He reminded his fellow artist,
Not a competition,
Some men use the
Art to cause confusion

To get into the lot, you have to go through a huge steel gate.  When I enter, Daoma, Kunati and Baba are sitting in the corner.  They know it’s my last day.  They give me a Goni (an African guitar), with my name carved in it.  Daoma wears a necklace with a huge Africa medallion and he ties it around my neck.  Kunati gives me a handful of wood carvings.

I give them clothes–all of the clothes I brought, but don’t care about any more. A glorious purge; I give them anything I haven’t worn at least five times in the last month. It’s like Christmas.  They are fighting over a lime-green Hilfiger shirt.  Kunati is strutting  around in a pair of grey slacks.  Baba’s got my socks on. I’m wearing more jewelry than a Hollywood starlet.

What do you do in a vacant lot with your friends on your last afternoon in Africa?

You drink beers, play drums and freestyle rap.

Baba, an Accra street vendor, in front of the lot where he sleeps.

Baba tells me his DJ name is Baba Wisdom.  Kunati says he doesn’t need a DJ name.  “I’m Kunati, that’s who I am,” he thunders.  Kunati raps fast.  He’s a lyrical cyclone.  He raps sitting down on the pavement.  Behind him, the wind blows litter onto a group of mattresses.  One of those mattresses is Kunati’s  He doesn’t rap about that.

Baba provides the rhythm for  Kunati’s rap.  “Bop, Bop, Clack,”  Bop, Bop, Clack.”  Then Baba raps.  He’s sitting in his wheelchair.  It’s slow at first, then picks up speed.  Baba raps in French.  I always thought of French as a feminine language.  Suddenly, it’s not.

Then I rap.  Then the sun sets.

When I wake up it’s 6 a.m. in Frankfurt, Germany and I’m freezing and stumbling drearily across the tarmac into a waiting shuttle bus.  And in the terminal, I chase Carlsbergs with Carlsbergs to try to kill the pressure that blitzkriegs my neck and my shoulders when I see American media pundits gesticulating  on T.V., but I can’t.

“Bop, Bop, Clack.”  Bob Bop CLACK.

For more images of Accra street life, check out the photo gallery.

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