Along some road in Nima, Accra. Nima is one of the least developed areas of the city
Located on Lagos Avenue, Tomreik is an unassuming 3* star hotel. Don't be scared, the cover picture is not my hotel! My first assignment for YandexTaxi in Accra and my lodging is here. It is my first extended stay in Africa in more than 10 years. I looked forward to this trip. One of the most underrated things that happens to anyone who has lived for a prolonged time outside a certain culture is the subtle changes that happens to the way you view people or you expect people to behave.
The hotel serves a bouquet of dishes for breakfast: gherkins, cucumbers, eggs, steamed veggies and a host of other things you might find in a typical european hotel. But the hotel also serves fried rice, gizzard stew, calamari stew. For breakfast. This is shocking to me. There is more variety for 'lunch' meals at breakfast than actual breakfast.
A weird experience. X is the hotel porter. He stands steadfastly at the entrance waiting for any little chance to give you a smile or hold the door for you. I got talking to him. He's worked as a porter for 2 years. He's saving to go to an IT school. The school costs just 500 dollars a year. If he's lucky, he expects to save enough by the end of the year. That is about 40 dollars a month or saving just about 1.3 dollars daily. His story is one the many I have heard. People genuinely want to grow wealth and everyone is looking for ways to do so. Some more successful than others.
My porter friend 'hustles'. Not too far away from his stand is a spa ad. I asked him about the spa ad. Apparently the spa is an on-demand centre. There isn't a functional spa at the hotel. I asked how that works. He's been contracted on commission to call the masseuse for any client who wants a spa or massage. Confused as to how that works, he explains to me, "I will make the call and someone will come see you in your room". The thought of a masseuse coming to my room sounded very sketchy, so I asked for more details. The masseuse or spa treatment apparently is a front for a call girl. That was the end of my adventure with wanting a massage. According to X, this is quite popular with expatriate visitors and I sounded like one. By the way, it is 50 dollars for 30-minute session.
Well, not actually gypsies. Street begging is a common occurrence in Ghana, but the distribution of those who do it is very varied. There are Niger children and grannies, disabled people and vulnerable local people. I grew up in rural Nigeria where begging was almost non-existent. Everyone was sort of family and there was always someone to talk to who can help out at least with food. When I moved to the city and saw the level of desperation, my heart always sank. I usually wonder what the stories of these people were and if they had a tribe of their own that can help them and support them.
One experience in Accra confused me. I was in my Uber car leaving the mall and as usual, our car was swarmed by kids, the oldest couldn't be more than 8 y.o. One of the kids was persistent and ran along as our car made it through traffic. He asked for money. I refused. I don't know why but I said the following: "I also need money". Then he proceeds to hand me all he had, everything. And he said "take". I didn't expect it. Was this a gimmick? Was I being tricked? Or guilt-trapped? Anyways, I took the money, smiled and returned it to him. He smiled back and waved at the car. He didn't ask for money again and he left. Our car zoomed off towards the highway.