When did this happen? When did Africa even feature as a destination of choice, I grew up somewhat conflicted about the motherland; on one hand it was the harrowing subject matter for Band Aid, charity adverts and Bono –starving children, Malaria, famine and war symbolised the Dark Continent. Yet that was my not my reality. My childhood holidays to Ghana it were fun packed, playing freely with my cousins in the neighbourhood, where I saw humanity in its most effervescent form. I saw kindness in the honest earnest ways of the people, where poverty existed but persistence and an unshakeable faith in God made them believe in the opportunities that lay ahead.
35 years on from my parent’s departure, there is nowhere else I’d rather be than in the land of abundant opportunity – Africa!
Boom! There it is....I've said it. It is my right, indeed my duty as an English woman who has seen more than her fair share of grey sunless sky, to begin and end with the weather. We Brits have made an art form of discussing the weather, needless to say it never disappoints and we are rained upon for three quarters of the year, with snow filling the momentary respite.
Ghana was hot last Christmas. Blisteringly so, to the point of lethargy and not much else. I excused my lazy afternoon naps as a holiday ritual, following a chaotic year contending with work, the Olympics and simply navigating my way through life. The sun slowed me down to standstill and I was in virtual awe of those who continued to work and thrive in the heat. Okay the pace is slower, some might say retarded, but it’s perfectly acceptable for the heat. When I see the workers on construction sites, building homes for the likes of my parents, returning expats stimulating the veritable boom in Ghana’s economy, I empathise with their regular breaks to snooze in the shade. Life in this kind of heat is simply meant to be lived slower, and with that comes a new perspective; a realisation that fulfilment is derived in many ways. I was too busy running in London that I forgot to clarify the route. Too busy making sure I wasn't left behind at work, in love, in life, that I forgot the purpose of the race. The Ghanaian sun simply gave me the time and pace to take stock and start to re-evaluate a few things.
I recall the day I returned to a dank grey UK; I was struck by the distance we keep from one another in our daily exchanges. I felt cold and isolated and alone in a way two weeks in Ghana had rendered me susceptible to. We all get holiday blues but this was something else, it was an awakening to the human sacrifice made to endure life here.
Natural Hair Revolution
The weave is overwhelming in length, bounce, depth and sheen. It’s raw, unadulterated and unapologetic. There has to be more Brazilian hair per square mile in Ghana than in Brazil. I was so mesmerised by the rare sight of a sister with natural hair that I bound towards her with bashful glee. This is one such time..
|Labadi Beach Hotel|
Sitting in a 5* hotel, eating as though chicken were to never lay egg again, I basked in the ever growing middle class Ghanaian tradition of brunching. It was empowering to see so many black faces in an establishment in Africa selling breakfast for £35 a head. Lavish I know (my friend had to pay for mine - my broke London arse can’t afford £35 for eggs) but it’s symbolic of the ever growing wealth and its distribution amongst Africans. In the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of fro. Not that texturised end of perm hair, that’s just waiting a week before the creamy crack is reapplied; I'm talking full blown, Esperanza style fro and sporting it is a beauty. I consider cornering her in the bathroom, but that seemed a little ‘single black female’ so waited until I passed her in the corridor to pounce. ‘Tell me about your hair?’ Bright as a button with the ‘international’ African accent, she tells me that she tired of relaxer and was inspired to try something new. Her hair had been natural for little over a year and was healthy and strong. She was visiting from Nigeria and had enjoyed the compliments she had been paid, although was saddened by the few Ghanaian women sporting their natural hair. ‘Young girls in Africa are too susceptible to western images of beauty. We copy because that is what we are taught to do. Perhaps if we see a few more popular western black women wearing their natural hair, the trend will pick up, but for now we think Beyonce and Rihanna are da bomb, so it’s their hair the girls want. It will take time before we Africans define our own beauty and until then the natural look will remain on the fringes, as an alternative but not mainstream look’.
I found a few natural shops selling body cream and hair care products for an exorbitant fee - obviously targeting westerners. Then of course there was the market where I found an abundance of shea butter sold for pennies. I confess that only the smallest of seeds have been sown in Ghana, but if a natural hair revolution is possible I want to be a founding member. Natural Belle it’s time to expand to the Continent – there are millions to be inspired!
A Chance to be CEO
I am done with working for ‘the man’. It’s time I am master of my own destiny. 'Ain't nothing going on but the rent' melody rings in my head. This pipe dream of my own small business is a hard one to reconcile in these days of austerity. The risk required to go it alone just seems far too great in London as compared to urrrggh the rest of the world, with the exception of Greece (if your profession is debt collection)! In Ghana, the robustness of the economy impressed me. People start and fail in business all the time, but it doesn't debilitate them as such an endeavour would here.
A friend of mine left the UK for Ghana a few years ago, where she started an events company. It has grown steadily and she now has 20 permanent staff working for her and is known throughout Accra as the ‘go to’ wedding planner. This is her side hustle - Mon to Fri she is an Exec PA; everyone in Ghana has a few side hustles – it’s a precondition for survival. Another man I met had been holidaying in the Central Region when he met some farmers who were selling their produce independently to supermarkets for a bad rate. He brought them together and said he would buy their entire produce and he would broker a deal with the supermarkets. Within weeks he had moved his family from London to Ghana and the business was established. I felt an entrepreneurial spirit amongst the young professionals I met that risk, fear and the banks aversion to lend money is stifling in the UK.
Body dysmorphia seems a rather odd reason to love a place, but it works for me. On my native British Isles, I am a full bodied woman, with hips and an arse to boot. In Ghana my curvaceous hips pale in to insignificance and what’s more, the curves are cherished, lined with spandex and put on display to be admired. My floaty summer dresses were even too conservative for church. If there is one thing that I learnt about young Ghanaian woman, it is that they are NOT body conscious. Whatever shape or size it comes in, it’s there to be flaunted and adored. Beyonce’s weave may be esteemed but her lack lustre thighs are not the thing of sweet dreams. I kid you not, if you want to feel good about your body, go to Ghana! – But please no spandex, I’ve seen enough lycra clad body con dresses straddling thick stomachs and thighs to last me a lifetime.
Living well for cheap
House help, a driver, a cleaner, a nanny, a cook – basically there is no service you can’t acquire and the going rate is cheap. It offends my delicate western liberal sensibility that I have succumb to adding this to my list, but I like an easy life and good God life in Africa is easy if you have money. No more doing it all; working, cooking, cleaning, shopping, raising children etc etc. In Africa there is someone to help with everything – for a small price. Forgive me, but it’s the truth. I like to see it as boosting the local economy by offering employment to those without work - Plus they love us ex pats, we always pay way over the odds and are so riddled with guilt we demand little service. My mum has a ‘house boy’ as they are called in Ghana - patronising yes, as he is a 30 year old man, with an ex wife and two kids in the village. Nevertheless he helps her out around the house in exchange for free food, a self contained 1 bedroom flat and the abundance of gifts my parents lavish upon him to absolve them of their guilt for hiring him.
So you’ve heard why I want to go. Don’t take my word for it. Go and see Ghana for yourself. You may find you never come back.