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Opinions of Sunday, 14 March 2004

Columnist: Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng

Efie Nkomo: ?Boga Has landed!?

Following weeks of daydreaming, buzzing anticipation and frantic shopping, the Son of Man has finally arrived home on holiday from Obroniland. Yes, a couple of years after my last pilgrimage home, I have come again to ?rest my bones small?. And I can tell you for free that I could not have chosen a better time to dash home for some sunshine-it is currently freezing cold back in London. Within the last few days of my arrival, at least three of my friends back there have mentioned to me in telephone conversations that the temperatures keep plummeting.

Gleefully, I kept rubbing in the fact that it was lovely and warm out here. I actually told one of my friends in Manchester that I was lying on the beach, sipping freshly squeezed pineapple juice with loads of ice. He, on the other hand, had switched on the heater in his seventh floor flat and was curled up on his sofa sipping tea. Dear reader, I could literally feel the torrents of green envy cascading down the phone line as we spoke. But I cared not.

After getting home from the airport and doing the traditional ?akwaaba? formalities, I showered, changed into a T-shirt and shorts, and caught a ?dropping? into town to hook up with some friends I had arranged to meet. Ladies and Gentlemen, I made my first, grave mistake in Ghana that night. I did not ask my sister how much I could expect to pay for a dropping from Teshie-Nungua Estates to Osu. The taxi driver must have divined somehow that I had just arrived in town, and apparently decided to bleed me dry. ?Sixty thousand?, he declared, his face as impassive as deadwood. My mind whirred into action immediately, converting the amount into pounds sterling. It was less than the equivalent of ?4. Now in England you can expect to pay twenty pounds or more for a taxi trip covering that distance. That is a good deal, I thought rather foolishly. I slid into the back seat quite regally, like a bona fide car owner. I will never forget the cruel teasing I received from my friends when I proudly announced how much I had paid to the driver. Apparently I should have paid about a third of what I paid, or less. Obviously my bargaining skills had been blunted by years of being away from home. I vowed to be wiser next time. They key, I was advised, was to stop thinking in pounds sterling.

Dear reader, after a few beers and some spicy, tender, goat khebabs, the next stop was The Blue Gate at Osu, where I devoured the soft banku, freshly grilled tilapia and ground pepper with the ferocity and of a starved rottweiller, much to the amusement of my friends. The night air was warm and sticky, and yet pleasant in its own soothing way. It felt just great sitting outdoors, sipping Club beer and watching life go by-the loud blast of hiplife music from a thousand bars, the night hawkers with their flickering kerosene lamps dotting the night air, the aromas of assorted cooked foods and the acrid exhaust fumes from battered cars. I just sat and absorbed them all, churning and digesting the uniqueness of a typical urban African evening. Eventually I crawled into bed and slept the night off under the constant whirring of a standing fan, for I was literally roasting due to the heat.

The next day, I had a ritual to perform-distributing the goods that people had given me for their friends, relatives and concubines. A cloth here, some underwear there, some perfume here, and the odd envelope of cash. I even had to deliver a wedding veil and tiara. I decided to make things much easier for myself. I called all the prospective recipients and told them to meet me at Paloma restaurant on the Ring Road, where I was hooking up with my dear friend Araba for lunch. Dear reader, I am proud to announce that this time I paid 20,000 cedis from Teshie-Nungua to Paloma. And Papa taxi driver had asked for 50,000 cedis!! I was surprised at my own bargaining skills.

Having just arrived, I was obviously full of ?ice?, and needed to ?melt? some of it. Now the wary and savvy shopper, I popped into three different forex bureaus before I got a rate I considered to be reasonable. My twenty pound notes bearing the Queen of England?s head were duly exchanged for notes bearing the heads of Dr. Ephraim Amu or the Big Six. I had never seen these notes before. The great thing was that I did not need a wheelbarrow to carry all that cash, as one would in previous times. From a distance, however, the ten and twenty thousand cedi notes looked the same to me, so I always had to peer at the notes before making payment, just in case I ended up being overgenerous when I did not intend to.

Now that I was a cedi millionaire, I felt smug. Yet I wondered how far my couple of millions would take me. The answer was duly provided by the end of the day. Catching a ?dropping? here and there, buying a few traditional shirts, dinner here, a Snap top-up card there, and I was almost down to my last million by the time I sat in the taxi on my way home late that night. I quickly realised that in modern Ghana, the price of almost everything is quoted in thousands of cedis. I had learnt Lesson Two in Ghana: Never let the fact that you have a million cedis in your pocket deceive you into thinking you have money. Let?s just say I was back in the forex bureau two days later.

It is certainly great to be back home. The familiarity of the surroundings, the homeliness of the ambience, the old friends to catch up with, the sights,-all these blend together harmoniously like the colours of a beautiful kente cloth to couch me in the safe knowledge that there is only one country on this planet I can truly call home. That country is none other than Ghana.

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