Buying Bread

gh_fishhead.jpg That I am ready to go home does not matter to Africa, which persists in being everywhere I look and all around me.


That I am ready to go home does not matter to Africa, which persists in being everywhere I look and all around me. Our house in Mamprobi is relatively modern (compared to the villages we saw up north, anyway), and I sit on our porch on Sunday morning, reading a book and sipping bitter coffee, a vain attempt to escape. The book on my lap (Whiteman, by Tony D’Souza) is about Africa though, a US volunteer in rural Cote D’Ivoire, and the air is filled with sounds which, even after eight weeks of hearing them, are still more foreign than familiar.

Most sounds are unseen, layers of noise from outside the walls, which, even with their tops of glass shards, cannot keep them out. Foremost is the singing from across the street, beautifully strong harmonies, a leading tenor and a following, full chorus, sung in Twi, with only the occasional “Jesus” ringing through to remind who they are. The orderly rhythms break down into chaotic chanting and shouts, African Pentecostals performing some tribal version of holy-roller cousins across the ocean. Then the disorder falls into line again, behind an ensemble of drums now, and I ask Odartey what they are singing.

“We are alive,” he translates, “We are not dead, by the holy spirits we are alive.”

There are also high-pitched shouts from the fish seller, shouting her wares in Ga: “Eh-mo eyyy!” , a refrain heard every morning. I see her each workday on our way to catch our tro-tro to Blacksmith Junction, an enormous tin tub riding her head and overflowing with silver-black, empty-eyed fish, arranged in circular rows.

“Eh-mo eyyy!” she yells, and I can hear her from blocks away, approaching, growing louder. “I have fish!” The theme of our block, when the Pentecostals do not completely drown her out.

On this Sunday morning, listening to Twi and Ga and Jesus as I read about the Worodougou and Peul people, Tay finally rises, comes out in her “tie-and-dye” smock and asks me to send one of the boys for bread and eggs. Kojo and Odartey are busy in the yard though, planting shrublings with Effo; they are shirtless, shoeless, and covered with soil and sweat, so I leave them to their work and go myself, even though I am dressed only for the house.

“Meh-kwaba,” I say to the boys and Effo, as I open the noisy metal gate myself. “I’ll be right back.”

In the street, there are plenty of people, even at eight in the morning in this tucked away Mamprobi block; they are dressed for Church, wearing smart western clothes, or matching black-and-white patterned shirts and dresses and head scarves and caps.

The Bengali lunghi, or wrap, I bought in Birpara attracts more stares than I normally get. I am a burly, black-bearded obruni, wearing a blue-checkered skirt and white T-shirt, shaking the hands of giggling children who dare each other to approach and touch my hariy arm. I return people’s ogles with Twi greetings, which causes them to smile and laugh and talk to me, the adults using deft fingers to add a cool jive-snap at the end of the handshake.

I hand a worn 5,000-cedi note to the woman at the store, which is really just a few cramped shelves of canned fish and meat, and she asks where my wife is as she hands me a half loaf of brown bread.

“Meh-yeri wa-da,” I say with accompanying sign language, hands together next to my ear, since my Twi intonations are rarely understood. My wife is sleeping. The storekeeper and her friend rattle off something way beyond my limited 20 or 30 words, and I depart in another sea of smiles.

I scan the street scene, wading through it on my way back to our gray gate: the head loads, the colors, the fish woman, the church sounds, the children dashing about in the dust; I know that, a month from now, Manhattan will seem just as bizarre and extraordinary, as will the whitewashed cleanliness of the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, a month after that.

I wonder when will I ever feel truly at home?

When will a trip outside — even just to buy bread — cease to be an exotic expedition?

Where will I have to go?

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