Last night I was offered some local colour unavailable to most visitors to Ghana. Having left a group of friends at a club in Accra, I shared a taxi with two unlikely pals who happened to be staying near my rented apartment. One was a local called Freedom (not his real name), I had met him a few times now but was always wary of what I’d seen in his antics; the other was a soppy drunk from Scotland who was difficult to follow from his slurry outbursts but he seemed pretty happy just to be part of the evening. Besides, a taxi ride was never meant to be too much of a risk.
Never assume anything.
Exercising enough caution to make sure that, if I did get in to trouble, I had enough money tucked down my sock for a second taxi, I let myself be detoured en route through Bukom. Bukom is a notorious neighbourhood in Accra; close to the even more infamous district of Jamestown. After confirming from Freedom we were safe in his ‘hood, I got out of the cab. Bracing the flickering of a hundred eyes that turned towards me and the soppy Scot, I was reminded of how drunk I must have been when I was assaulted two miles across town just last month.
Doing my best not to look anyone directly in the eye, I began to feel at ease here. There were at least two men, playing chess, who didn’t give a shit about two timid white boys shuffling after their mate. Once Freedom plied us with joints – most of mine spilled on the floor while trying to roll it, fingers shaking nervously in the dark – he gave me a quick briefing of ‘Bukom Garden’; his old stomping ground before making the move to the affluent ex-pat community in Korkrobite. We squeezed between two clay buildings before settling on a wooden plank to smoke.
“Everyone here plays football or box.” Freedom explained, with Bukom Banku a particular icon of the rags to riches legacy that flows out from this tiny area. Many world-class boxing champions have followed in Bamnku’s footsteps since taking home bronze at the All-Africa Games at the age of 19.
Freedom’s short history of the neighbourhood spurred the weary Scot, sucking on his spliff – his head bowed between his legs, to intermittently comment on the good quality of sportsmen in poor areas of Africa (I think). Rather impressed with Freedom’s reverence for the place, and the personal efforts made to return to his roots after rising from this poverty, I looked at my surroundings in a totally different way.
Overall feeling grateful for the opportunity to see another part of the country, I understood Bukom to see it’s much more than a hostile place for a white man to tread. The Garden is a breeding ground for talent, and home to the aspirations of a thousand young West Africans.