A Guest of the Government

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A Guest of the Government

Post by River Dog on March 28th 2008, 12:44 pm

We were dining outside at the Afrikiko bar on the airport road. Agama lizards gather around our table, nodding their heads as they beg for scraps. Six o’clock and the sun goes out, the equatorial spin switching if off like a lamp. Hundreds of fruit bats stream out of a tree, so low they cut the blossom, which falls upon our heads.

“I’ll take you out tomorrow. The Chief has arranged permission for you to visit the dam at Akosombo,” says my host.


“It is a magnificent dam, a real achievement for our country.”

“OK, ” The dam was built in 1961, so I am not convinced at the prospect.

Early next morning, a banged-up old Renault arrives and my host jumps from the back seat with a charming young Ashanti girl in a loud red and white dress with puffed shoulders. The African smile is legendary and hers no less so. She can only be in her early twenties while my friend is married and in early middle age. I don’t say anything, they seem happy.

“This is Marnie. She is my girlfriend. Come we go. See we have a car and a driver and everything. We will lunch at the Volta Hotel.”

I sit next to the driver whilst my friend fiddles with Marnie in the back. The driver is too busy watching them in the mirror to avoid the potholes so it’s a relief to get off the tarmac. There isn’t much of it in Ghana and it soon gives way to red earth tracks that are passable when dry. Big, loping tracks that rise and fall like a frozen sea, down into the craters then up to the summit and over again.

A brief diversion to the Aburi Botanical Gardens where I find some pleasure in poking a giant millipede with a stick, while my friend struggles with Marnie’s assets, behind a tree.

Then the track gets more difficult and it’s wetter. Puddles turn the craters into little river crossings. High vegetation either side guards the view and it is slow going. As we come off a bend, in the middle of a jungle clearing, we approach a service station. Selling gasoline just like the ones back home. Same branding, pumps, forecourt, little shop and even toilets. It is ridiculous and I really don’t want to stop but as it the same oil company that is hosting me, I am obliged. And we are low on fuel.

“This is the Chief, he owns this garage,” The Chief is behind the cash register, with his feet up, in tribal dress, fanning himself. Several young women are fiddling with the stock or cleaning. There is not another car for miles.

“Pleased to meet you, this is a fine garage you have here”

“Yes, it is. I am most proud to provide this service to you. Someone from head office is an honoured guest.”

Another woman pumps the fuel whilst I peruse the shelves and the Chief peruses Marnie. The stock is rubbish. Everything worthwhile has long since gone. Secondhand cassette tapes and dead batteries cannot tempt me.

Back on the track we start to pass a lot of people walking single-file on each side. They are splendidly dressed but sombre.

“A funeral, my friend”

Towards the front of the procession, we pass by a small group of women. We are moving very slowly when one of them looks at me and spits. The phlegm dribbles down my cheek. I wipe it with my sleeve and wonder about her motive.

“This is my friend from London and here is a letter giving him permission to tour the dam as a guest of the government.”

An hour later and we are still looking at pipes and pumps beneath the mighty Volta River. There is a clear schedule to the tour and nothing I can do will speed it up. My friend and Marnie have disappeared amongst the machines, where the din probably helps his cause. At least it’s cooler down here.

“This is a very important place,” says my guide. ”You see, we provide power for other countries as well as all of Ghana. An enemy has only to destroy the dam to plunge us into darkness. So you must not tell anyone about what you have seen here today.”

The dam has been on maps for decades and it was built by foreign companies with World Bank money. On top of that, it is a very large dam, visible for miles. Some day, the folks downstream are bound to come looking to see where all the water has gone.

“I promise.”

This was a government that would soon point a gun at me.
River Dog
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