Sometimes I can’t believe it, I’m moving past the feeling.
Culture – it’s a strange thing. You can spend years at a time in one culture, one way of life, continuously digesting thoughts and assumptions of what an opposing one is; yet, when the cards are smack down on the table and you plug in to take the step of transition – well, let’s just say it’s not the game you thought it was. Shocking, surprising, supressing – a juxtaposition of images running through the very social fabric of the society around you; a maelstrom of events that is as subtle as a handshake escalating to a goat being hacked to death in front of you. A place where the surreal currency and prices mean you have never-ending money. A place where police casually walk past you clutching their over-sized AK47’s. A place that is so laid back that a minute feels like a second.
Have you ever played Grand Theft Auto? Quite a strange way to sum up a culture but seemingly, as I sit in my hide out listening to the whirl of taxi horns invade my windows, well, it’s the most apt way to describe the settting that is Cape Coast, Ghana. I know what you’re thinking: ‘What the hell is he on about?’ – but for a long time now, not feeling, reacting or even acting like normal, for a long time I’ve felt like I’m in a video game; a virtual world and community where nothing is real but the thoughts in your head when you log in and play. Perhaps that says alot about the western world; in all the sights I’ve seen with all the power and majesty of the human brain, stepping into an African country for the first time is too much to continue functioning normally. Digesting the sights and experiences around you as a real person is too much as the smokescreen of culture shock remains streaming, forever embedded in your blurred senses. It is because of this very thing that I find the most fitting way to describe this new world is as a Grand Theft Auto game. We all remember the feeling of that teenage memory – picking up the controller for the first time as you walked around as a virtual person in a virtual 3D world thinking of the endless possibilities within the game. Everything around you caught your eye, nothing was real and you wanted to go explore everything within the genius design of the game. The similarities in Cape Coast, Ghana are endless; don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying everyone goes around killing each other, running people over (well, not to the same extent anyway) whilst working for some mobster boss who sits in his mansion overlooking the town below – the similarities are in the change of what you thought was reality. Living in England for 19 years, the closest thing to Africa I had seen was…. well, I hadn’t. As a westerner in Ghana, my reality is void; it’s a game, I’m in a game – It’s all a game.
The first thing I learnt when I landed and logged in to play was that my characters name was Kofi. Ghanaians name men and women after what day they were born you know – so from the extensive day list of around 7, we have 14 separate designs of character within the game. I’m the Friday character; yes, being born on Friday, 24th of January,1992 means I’m the Kofi design – just like the other 1 million or so Kofis.
But what about the map I hear the critics call out? The design in the area of Cape Coast is detailed and impressive. The town is a rustic charm – the interweaving streets bare host to a hub of life and activity where the wandering goats and chickens avoid the barrage of taxis and plethora of life that ingrains itself within you to tickle the senses. Countless stalls line the roads selling items of interest. Fish. Chicken. Radios. Locks. Medicine. Literally anything your character needs. The noise beckons; ranging from the hapless groan of goats and blasting of Ghanaian music to the little kids continuously shouting ‘Obroni!’ as you walk past (Ghanaian for ‘white person’). The occasional stench of sewage lingers past you from the open sewers, all the while a disabled Ghanaian sits gazing intently at the crowds walking past hoping for a charitable donation. Toward the end of the map lies Cape Coast slave castle that stands aptly gleaming in white paint as it pokes it’s nose out in the horizon hunting Atlantic ocean. Beside it nestles the lush sandy beaches that serenade the shore as the back of them adorn the sight of the Rasta huts.
Now, every game has the good guys and, like all well designed games, Grand Theft Ghana very much does in the form of these Rastafarians. They sit in their huts beside the castle making craft items and continuing the never-ending mission of ‘avin a good time’. That they do as they drift around the local area smoking the good shit and helping any unfortunate person who is ‘avin a bad time’. Love and peace forever right? The bad guys, the real ones you have to watch out for, lie in the center of town late at night as they cast their smearing eyes out from the darkness to look for that glint of white skin – this gang, best known as ‘streetboys’, remain a consistent threat to your characters health and money. They see your white skin as representing wealth – wealth, which they think would best be transferred to them. Avoiding these certain areas at night or going round with the rastas will give you the protection to best avoid this decrepit gang.
When thinking about the game holistically, there are numerous threats to your characters health in Cape Coast, Ghana. The taxi drivers, who come in their thousands, all burn rubber at breakneck speed as they race from one end of the map to the other. It is risky to your characters health whenever you are inside one of these machines – especially when there is over ten of you crammed in like sardines as the driver gleefully overtakes buses and trucks in the shadowy haze of night. However, beside all these threatening factors in Cape Coast, Ghana, the number one threat, without a doubt, remains the illusive gangs of mosquitos; they patrol the streets menacingly at night carrying the weapon of Malaria whilst they continue forever in their quest to hunt you down – one malaria ridden bite and you could find yourself waking up at the local hospital. Alone. Sick. Seeped of energy. It happened to a few characters I met here. The trick is to leave the house everyday with your body armor on; this comes in the form of insect repellent that is applied to your characters skin or anti-malaria tablets which, when taken consistently, represent your steroid-pumped knight in shining armor – coming to pull you out the pits of a disease that kills thousands and thousands every single year. Whilst this setting and these enemies may sound like an enormous death-trap, with the right preparation and the right street smarts, you should find yourself roaming the game’s map comfortably as you go about your daily business and progress through the game.
Business. We’ve finally got to the word; Carl Johnson had business to attend to, Niko Belic had business to attend to and now, following a large payment made to the organisation ‘Projects Abroad’, Kofi has business to attend to. I came to Ghana early July to start the game; training as a journalist, my job was soon made clear as I met with the editor of a local paper entitled: ‘Central Press Newspaper’. The bosses name was Kwamina; a hard-working, enthusiastic and slightly crazy character, he installed me into my job very quickly – about the only thing he did do quickly as countless times I found myself slumped on the busy, poverty-ridden street sides waiting to be picked up. Sometimes half an hour late. Sometimes an hour. Enough of that small glitch anyway. My job soon became clear and comfortable; occasionally I was dropped at press conferences where, as the stand out only white person in the room, I came armed with a pen and notebook, jotting down all the issues that arose. They were, as expected, stereotypical issues of a developing country – youth, aids, water, food, charities, violence – you know, the usual. Anyhow, as I progressed further into the game, my boss called on me increasingly to go out and find stories across the map of Cape Coast and, on occasions, further afar. That I did as I stumbled around the third world streets, roads, backpaths and communities of Cape Coast. Stories about the historic ills of slave castles arose. Stories about the sheer demonic hatred toward homosexuals came afoot. Cocoa farmers. Festival events. Crime. The stories for these missions grew ever interesting and expanding as I glided through my storyline at an unearthly pace. It was, however, outside the missions where the true experience began to surprisingly creep up on me. It’s a map where sewers litter the pot-hole eaten roads as the swelling stench rubs off on the wild animals that parade these very streets. A world where the ongoing poverty is apparent as the sweltering heat that warps in and out of your melting body. Yet, in what is quite often an ugly design, the ironic true beauty of the game lies in the characters that walk down these poverty-infected streets.
I’ll always remember what I heard at one press conference: “Ghana is not poor; the wealth is in our minds”. I struggled to understand what it meant at first having just turned up on Ghana’s rusty doorstep. Further into the game the meaning soon shone through. Denotatively the characters here may have low money and supplies, yet, with a smile on their face and a glint in their eye, they remain truly wealthy – to a point where their quality of life is simply enviable. Always happy, helping each other out, laughing and joking; the majority of characters in this game are quite frankly winning. If I need directions, they will guide me to where I need to be. If I’m injured, they will do their best to help heal me (even if that does mean rubbing hot ash on an open wound). The people, 90% of the time, are of great design; a design that should be implemented more places in the world. While I began to meet more and more characters across the map of Cape Coast, there were some who, quite deservedly, stood out. On a few late nights when the sun had fallen off the horizon to be replaced by the purple, half-light of the moon, often I stumbled into a group of Rasta folk who called themselves the ‘4/20 crew’; they were Ghanaian men whose days consisted of making paintings and African craft to sell to tourists; if not engaging in these activities, they could be found on the opposite end of the map in the recording studio putting down material to be sent to local radio stations throughout Cape Coast. Their names ranged from ‘Moonshine’ and ‘Mickey’ to ‘Bow Wow’, ‘Shackles’ and ‘Black’. Whilst they kept themselves busy in the heated atmosphere of day, it was at night where the soul and spirit of the 4/20 crew shone through. They came out armed every evening with guitars, soul and plenty of the ‘gurd shit’ – as they proclaimed it. Of course this wouldn’t be a true Grand Theft Auto-esque experience without a bit of drugs; and that it was as, every week, a large delivery of weed from the capital of Accra turned up on the streets of Cape Coast. It was clear who the main players and dealers in this shady game were and it came as no surprise to find the rastafarians higher than Kilomanjaro every night sitting, gazing out across the ocean as they discussed god, power and life with a joint in their hand and a red glaze in their eyes. Occasionally the ‘muthafucka police’ would catch them.
the ‘muthafucka’ police
Now, by the letter of the law a 5 year sentence is in place by the Ghanaian authorities; however, we all knew that just wouldn’t happen. The police here are as corrupt a 3 pence coin and on the occasions that the rastas were caught smoking, they would be taken to the bank to get money out in the form of a bribe so that the corrupt cops and their huge AK47s would look the other way. Still, no amount of police or machine guns could stop the rastas from ‘avin a good time’. Truly entertaining, this is another part of what made the characters the most impressive design within the game. Although I began to meet more and more Ghanaians, my list of friends and associates quickly became more universal, incorporating characters from all over the globe. My job here was put in place by the aforementioned organisation Projects Abroad who, all over the world, run projects in a variety of countries; in such, with the group having headquarters in many nations worldwide, there was a considerable diversity of nationalities working in Cape Coast alongside me. English. American. Australian. Swiss. Dutch. Italian. French. Canadian. Belgian. Irish. The list goes on. All these characters coming together in the realms of Cape Coast led to some interesting developments. When walking down one of the busy downtown roads, through the scores of people rushing around the markets balancing items on their heads, you would, maybe, see one white person (or ‘obroni!’) every few minutes as you awkwardly stumble through the sea of Ghanaian people. On a rough estimate, I think it would be safe to say that one white person features for every thousand Ghanaians across the Cape Coast map – because of this design issue it is unavoidable that the obronis stick together through the game. Despite being so rare, it wasn’t hard to find these collector items; when I originally arrived, I was shown to my hide-out on the edge of town that would be my sleeping headquarters for the following two months. After setting down my heavy bags and beginning the game, I soon met my obroni housemates; there was four of us in total – a dutch girl by the name of Lenneke and two of my fellow Englishmen – Liam and James who, evidently by the empty bottles of vodka that greeted me, liked a ‘gurd time’. The place seemed cool; we were lodging with a Ghanaian host family who made us meals, looked after us and even did the laundry from time to time; suffice to say, I had landed a good joint to stay at. As the storyline integrated itself deeper, I began to meet vast amounts of obronis who I grew strong connections with. From the loud, American, party-animal Hannah to the adventurous Australians Cameron, Maddie and Darcy. From the work enthusiast Saul to the crazy Swiss guys Nick, Michelle, Shany and Margot. From the singing Canadian Tim to the joyful, Italian dentist Marco; the list really could glide on and on. The depth of these universal friendships remained huge in a world glittered in drinking, dancing and partying delights. There were times where I, Kofi, found myself sitting around a beach fire at 3 in the morning drinking and singing with ten other nationalities. There were times when I found myself cascading over a lush, maze of greenery with a young American as we paraded over the cagey canopy walk of the local Kakum rainforest.
The shady ‘Abura’ district by day
I once found myself up upon my homestay roof late at night with a Swiss medical student as we gazed out upon the sea of shady backstreets and busy late-night markets that made up the daunting district of ‘Abura’ – we watched dodgy proceedings occur in the distance under flickering lights as sketchy characters walked in and out the shadows: all the while we set our gaze out for a brief glimpse of the rare one-legged women who occasionally lingered her presence out from the darkness of the alleyways. All of this, coupled with the tranquil, atmospheric sound of Pink Floyd, well, it lead to some interesting conversations to say the least.
In hindsight the majority of our neon-lit, substance-fueled adventures took place downtown in the pits of Oasis Beach Resort; situated on the edge of the map, lodged between the slave castle and pristine beaches, the adults playground that is Oasis played host to many a drunken night (and sometimes morning) as the games major characters came, united together, sailing through a sea of local shots and beer in the wake of Ghanaian nightfall. It really was the main hotspot in Cape Coast where the stacks of converted obroni cash came toppling in as the local spirits inturn flooded back out. The bar had a whole host of firepower in the armory; from the deadly ‘Herb Africa’ to the vicious bite of ‘Pusher’ – these gin bitters cost next to nothing: all this meant that there were more shots taking place than a Mafia gang war. The layout of Oasis looked relatively peaceful and laid-back; however, after this utter devastating consumption of alcohol, the tranquil setting of palm trees, old wooden tables and gravel paths soon transformed into a turf of illegal dance moves, loud sing-songs and blazing campfires. I suppose the scenic, wide-screen view of the vast Atlantic ocean was quite nice in the hands of day – however, the close location of the sea was just another threat to your characters health come nightfall; these deadly shots at Oasis would make you think almost anything: I.e. that for some overpowering reason, that you don’t know quite why, you had the apparent sudden urge to go for a swim at 2 in the morning. Now, I’m not going to say that the sea was rough because that wouldn’t be true. I think the best way to put it would be, quite frankly, that it was a fucking death-trap. Huge waves. Rapid stop/start currents. Unstoppable rips. No-one to save you if you’re washed out. Remember the first few Grand Theft Autos? You know – the ones before you could swim and a simple dip in the ocean would see your characters health drop rapidly. Well, yeah – it was a bit like that. Me, myself, Kofi, had many a near miss with the first occuring on my very first Oasis venture; following a billion local shots and a million local beers, me, Albert Einstein, had the sudden genius idea to go for a quick dip: that I did as I stuttered from the bar, across the lumpy sand pits and into the aqua death-arena of crashing waves and mountainous under-currents. It happened once. Then again. Then again. And a few times more as I progressed through the storyline. Luckily, I never went too far in, despite my senses being somewhat distorted at the time. This comes down either to the Canadian lifeguard Tim warning me or the health cheat I must have entered early on in the game. Did I tell you that I fell off a balcony at one point? Yeah, definitely must have entered that cheat. In all honesty I never really expected the game to feature so much alcohol: personally I blame Liam and James – my room mates. I suppose staying with two, stocky English rugby players means it shouldn’t be a surprise to see myself engaging in a war of alcohol with them – curse the guy who invented rounds.
Balancing the social occasions and nights out with meeting my job and bosses needs proved to be a tricky mission; often I found myself spaced out in the confinement of a loud and busy press conference as I tried to pretend that my tender head didn’t feel like it had a million grenades exploding within it. Still, despite low health, I had to meet the criteria of the game’s job. That I did as I continued developing my stories and journalistic skills in helping produce the paper that went out to the streets and businesses of Cape Coast every fortnight. The newspaper was run by just a few characters; originally me and Saul were putting the content together as we addressed issues of worth to Cape’s citizens. Soon we were joined by a few more characters: Oliver from England and Australian Cameron who eventually came into the game as they arrived in town to help us and the boss in our journalistic quest. The stories and issues remained just as interesting through the progressing storyline. I covered factors such as the heaps of fake medicine and food brands that had found their way out on the busy market streets of downtown Cape Coast. I covered issues such as the ongoing debate that community chiefs needed more official power so that they could unite with the corrupt cops in helping settle conflicts – hmmmm. As the days went on and the sun continuously dropped off the Atlantic horizon, I became substantially integrated within the game; like a Carl Johnson in San Andreas, I confidently knew my way around the map of Cape Coast as I jotted through the packed, poverty strucken streets and side roads: I knew more and more local characters and things, generally, became easier. Still lodging in my hide-out on the edge of town. Still exploring the joys of Oasis. Still regularly completing my journalistic missions. The people came and went of course; particularly the parting obronis, who after finishing their stories, said their final goodbyes to everyone: many, never to be seen again, drifted down the road in a luggage, lumped taxi as they casually drifted out the game and out your life. No cheat to enter to bring them back. Forever gone with a simple car-ride down one of the many pot-hole ridden roads of Cape Coast. Soon I found myself living with just one other person at my Abura hide out – Lenneke and James had logged out and all that was left was me and Liam. Although the partnership was deadly resulting in many insane, alcohol drenched days and nights, the time came to pass seemlessly quickly. In the end it was just me, Kofi, alone continuing my quest in Grand Theft Ghana to the bitter end. My list of contacts and associates soon ultered; with a pick n mix of some Swiss characters, an Italian, an Australian and of course, a few more English guys, I soon picked myself up with this new gang to continue my storyline in the spiraling depths of this third world country. Of course the 4/20 crew remained a titantic force in our quest to have a good time; every night, and sometimes day, we would meet to patrol the streets, communities and bars of the Cape Coast map. The tacky, torn maze of streets downtown soon became a welcoming host to our mindset of having a good time – that we did as we drifted around the rustic, poverty bitten jungle of Cape. More good times came to the table. More missions arrived at the door; in and out they went as I progressed further through the game.
The Trip Up North
What the hell am I doing in Africa!?
Every game has the ‘big mission’ so to speak and this one bared no difference. I had been gearing up for it in all my long time here; weeks had passed and the journalistic missions became somewhat easy as they drifted casually by without a threat of failure passing through my character’s culture-shocked mind – suffice to say, yep, I needed, and wanted, a challenge. And boy did that challenge come after an early morning conversation me and my fellow journalist associate Saul had with the boss Kwamina. In a simple car journey around the Cape Coast streets, he set out to us a mission of apocalyptic size; resulting in potential death or a heroic homecoming of success, we were told to travel up to the north of Ghana independently in the mission to tour the forbidden, mystic land whilst simultaneously landing stories for the next edition of the paper. Originally it seemed quite daunting; what awaited us in the veiled northern land where stories of anti-tourism and extreme values had reached my southern, white ears. It was going to be a tough mission. Eventually we warmed to the criteria of this gigantic calling and we packed our bags and prayers as we set out upon our long, arduous journey into the realm of the north. Cape Coast, Ghana had been stereotypical of southern Ghana; evoking a laid-back atmosphere with it’s collection of tourist-friendly characters, christian morals and scenic beaches, it differed majorly from the north – well, atleast that was the word on the street anyway. We left the map of Cape on what was to be our transport for the next 5 days – a trotro.
A trotro engaging in battle
Now to say trotros were horrific would be an understatement: they were torture machines wrapped in rusty metal and crammed full of human flesh, all the while the engine grumbled as it stumbled along the pot-hole, crater-ridden roads at 25mph. Many deaths had taken place regularly with the use of these ‘machines’. The size of a standard minibus – 36 people at times were crammed in for the long, unbearable journeys as legs squashed together and heat burnt through the dusty air of the trotros. This is how we made our way to the north of Ghana; it took many long hours (13 to be precise) but eventually we reached the north as the trotro stuttered to a halt and we cast our crushed feet and tired eyes out upon the large, bustling town of Tamale. The mission had begun.
It was a strange alien world by Cape Coast’s standards; a sea of bikes and motorbikes greeted us as they flew menacingly through the busy Muslim crowds filling the streets that, in turn, paraded the titanic market areas. Mosques stood proudly peering out as they overlooked the sprawls of huts and busy roads below. There were dead animals everywhere; whether it was the head of a cow, crocodile or monkey, the stench of dead creatures wafted throughout the hectic town as me and Saul stood, notepad and pen in hand, dazzed and confused at this new game map. The delights of Oasis and the 4/20 crew were a long way away. We weren’t in Kansas anymore. Eventually, like a Russian Niko Belic clutching a shotgun, we warmed to it. We set out on our mission to fish stories from the cesspool of Alien culture: first we explored the fetish section district of the huge Tamale market – this was, to say the least, disturbing; a sea of dead creatures greeted us as lizard skins lied baked out in the searing sun – all the while a decapitated monkey head sat, staring up at you with it’s brain still rattling inside. It made an interesting story to say the least as we intently quizzed the sellers and buyers of these strange items which were, apparently, used for medicine and cursing…. . What a strange game this was.
We progressed further to some more friendly ventures on the other side of the map. We discovered some charities that helped women on the streets of Tamale turn their backs to poverty and prostitution and teach them skills such as hairdressing and dressmaking; heartwarming stuff, we knew the boss Kwamina would love content like this for the next edition of the paper. We even managed to squeeze another youth story in as we stumbled upon the Northern Region headquarters of the Ghanaian National Youth Authority. We were loaded with journalistic content as a trotro was with people. After getting adjusted to the map of Tamale and draining it of it’s journalistic stories, me and Saul set out to continue our mission in this deadly game; using Tamale as an anchor, we set out once more on trotros to visit the surrounding local areas. Staying in the tiniest, filthiest hotel rooms, we toured the north with an inner strength of finishing this mission to it’s heroic end. The game’s difficulty level had definitely took a gleeful step up. This was most evident during the time where we got briefly lost in the cosmic, dark universe of Northern Ghana. It was late at night and we had got off at the wrong stop and, in such, we were stranded in an unknown dark town; the lightning storms on the horizon didn’t help as we stood in the dark abyss of night as the only white people in the alien town. Although the surrounding area was covered in lush, seeping green scenery, the darkness of nightfall turned this area into a shady cave of confusement, danger and worry. It was one of the memorable moments of the game but alas, eventually, following the help of a few local characters, we made our way to the town of Bolgatanga that lied on the Burkina Faso and Ghanaian border.
The mission of touring the north progressed on and on. We visited more places. We stopped in more hotels. We rode more trotros. In the end we landed in the foreign pits of the village of Larabanga: this was a small community in the outback of Northern Ghana – we had stopped overnight in the Salia Brothers Guesthouse which was, to put it politely, very basic – still, I suppose it had character with it’s bucket showers and piles of bed bugs…. . On the contrary we were glad we did. We had been approached previously by a gang of youths who offered me and Saul a place to stay for the night with transport for the following day; originally everything seemed cool but after witnessing desperation to get us to stay the night, coupled with me spotting what appeared to be a stolen Iphone, well, let’s just say we warmed off the idea. Just another gang of enemies in the toils of Grand Theft Ghana. Standard.
Following our short stop in the small village of Larabanga we made our way, on rented bicycles, across the dusty, dirt roads and onward to the national park of Mole: this was a vast, green world of beautiful design incorporating the sights of never-ending lush jungles and open African plains. A plethora of wildlife sat in this world and, like true stalker journalists, we went hunting after them (all be it with a Ghanaian ranger and his trusty rifle). The visit to Mole national park was probably the most enjoyable part of the mission up north; we stood, overwhealmed on the plains of Mole, taking mental and physical snap shots of the surrounding elephants, monkeys, antelope and eagles that serenaded the senses and sea of of greenery around us. Suffice to say, we now had a wealth of quality content to write about. We put our notebooks away and prepared for the long journey home. The visit up north had been a cathartic experience; there had been danger, stress, running about and utter, utter, utter confusement – still, through the tough woodwork of shady characters, torturous trotros and horrific hotels, we had collected a warm, unforgettable experience that seeped out the rusty pores of Northern Ghana. After gaining seven quality stories, getting lost and riding our obroni luck, we were worn down – ready to pack our bags once more and travel another 13 hours back south to the comfort of Cape Coast. The comfort of home. Our mission had been a success. Grand Theft Ghana had progressed to it’s final stages as I arrived back on the map of Cape Coast for the final part of the game and storyline.
Feet back on the dusty concrete roads of Cape. Head back on the torn pillow of my hide-out’s bed. I was back in town for the remainder of the game. By now I was fully comfortable and integrated into this surreal society and culture; walking around town there would be people shouting: ‘ooo shit!’ at me and the other volunteers – it was originally a phrase me and Liam developed on drunken missions but it had now been swept into the community atmosphere of Cape. Still, the place was the same as how I left it. Goats and chickens still roamed the streets. Taxis still shot narrowly past the scores of people. The map was now easy to navigate; having been here for well over a month I needed no radar to jostle through the maze of markets, back-streets and paths that made up Cape Coast. My character’s attributes had increased and improved over the course of the game – I was now the Niko Belic of Liberty city. The Vince Viccetti of Vice city. The CJ of San Andreas. Still, the experience remained a video game; culture here was truly a surreal experience and one that after 7 weeks, I still couldn’t quite adjust to. I was well and firmly still in the game – along way away from the oxygen, food, water and surface of my past reality: England. If I had thought the integration into this Grand Theft Ghana had been crazy so far, boy, was I in the for a surprise when the festival came to town. Every week of the year, around the start of September, the map of Cape Coast transforms with an injection of street parties, music, traditional celebrations and ‘gurd times’. I’m not quite sure why but for some design reason the town just goes nuts; in an arena of drinking, dancing, sex, drugs and rock n roll, the map of Cape put’s away it’s laid back roots to breed a jungle of partying and festival spirit. Bars littered the busy roads as characters sat engaging in a feast of ethanol-based delights. People stood dancing on roofs, street corners and literally anywhere available. Speakers lay sprawled across the streets as they whipped up a hysteria of noise and bass from every oncoming angle. It was a sea of good time and I, Kofi, would be lying it I said it weren’t right up my alley. With this the end of my storyline here was set out to be one big party for the culture-shocked senses; with supplies stuttering and money drained out the bank, I was forced to become more Ghanaian as I weaved through the barrage of bars buying the cheapest (and worst) shots available to the liver of man. My characters health and money were at serious risk: still, it’s only a game, right? Saul had finished his story and logged back out this matrix of culture – back to the far away reality of England and the green hils that bestow it. Me, Oliver, Cameron and the new girl Rebecca were still plugged in to continue our journalistic missions and, more importantly, continuing having a good time in the world of Ghana. That we did as we put on our festival hats and tip-toed out to the third world streets of Cape and the festival that caressed it. The map had really transformed from it’s previous look; areas and districts that once laid quiet in the fall of night were now giant street clubs as thousands of people ganged together in a battle of alcohol, food and festival festivities. The flickering street lights peered down to reveal a river of partying people, all splashing their hard-earned cash in any and all items that caught their gleaming eyes. It really was the Glastonbury of Ghana. The biggest nightclub in the world – just with a roof missing. Everyone seemed cool and friendly and apart from the few coke heads and disease-ridden prostitutes that approached us, we really didn’t have trouble steering ourselves through this chapter of the game. The end of Grand Theft Ghana stood still on the distant horizon. This game of journalism, culture and partying was coming to an end as I approached the coming finish line – all that was left, honestly, was to have…. more gurd time. This was one mission I would happily repeat over and over again.
That I did as me, my fellow Obronis and the 4/20 crew came out into the festival sea riding a wave of alcohol as we swerved through the gangs, streets and parties that awaited us. Cameron from Australia was good at the game; he knew how to have a ‘gurd time’ with his weapons of vodka water melon and skittles vodka. In such, as if by some sheer coincidence, I found myself wasted with this partying character most nights. There was one night where me, Cameron and Harry from England found ourselves in pitch black bars having a good time before ending up in hysterics at one of the rastafarian’s house. Sure, we had work some mornings after but the boss had to realise the game was ending. And it wasn’t going to end without a bang. We breezed through the Cape Coast festival like a raging hydra jet; we left no bar untouched, no beer undrunk, no stone unturned. Through the seas of festival goers and booming music there we stood, a bunch of intercontinental obronis in the third world pits of a Ghanaian festival. Occasions like this never existed in my deepest obroni thoughts: we were definitely in a computer game – one from which we couldn’t pull the plug on. The closing days of Grand Theft Ghana whistled past pretty quickly; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday….. soon it was the weekend and my time in this surreal game of culture was on it’s last breath as it lied face down in the street waiting for the engine of a plane to pick me up and take me home. Though it had been a life-changing and unforgettable experience, I was ready to drop the controller and log back out to the reality of England. The reality of home. The map of Cape and the country of Ghana had truly been a great setting for my adventure; the world of cocoa farms, busy markets, serene beaches and slave castles had been the ultimate host to my story in Ghana. The people I met here are undoubtedly some of the best characters this English obroni had ever stumbled upon. It had been a jungle of crazy culture and one from which this gamer didn’t want to leave. I packed my bags full of clothes, gifts, alcohol and of course, memories. Memories of drifting around Cape Coast with a gang of rastas. Memories of countless press conferences and dodgy media companies. Touring the devilish pits of the north with just one fellow Englishmen. Watching a monkey fight a dog on a beach. Falling off a balcony only to end up back drunk at Oasis the very same day. People. Places. Events. Good times – fears and joys with some of the craziest and friendly characters I’ve ever come across. There really were too many memories; atleast, too much to cram into this dusty, old obroni suitcase.
Culture is a Computer Game
So there you have it; after 8 long weeks in the game I reached the bitter end – credits rolling and violins kicking in, I had became the parting obroni saying my final goodbyes to everyone as I drifted down a pot-hole eaten road in a luggage, lumped taxi. Never to be seen again? Who knows. The most important thing after this crazy 8 weeks was that I had a ‘gurd time’; the people I’ve met, the sights I’ve seen, the experiences that have rolled my way – they will remain forever embedded in Kofi’s mind – and my real mind. I suppose the irony of this story is the fact I’ve described it as a video game. Yes, it did feel like one; I never quite got my mind in set as I found myself peering through a TV screen of culture as I stood burnt and tired on a Ghanaian road watching a woman balance 20 stacked towels on her head. I just hadn’t seen this kind of stuff before. I was a 19 year old obroni Englishmen in a jungle of sense-tearing events and people. Where else had I seen a rasta and his weed run from the police? Where else had I seen a monkey fight a dog on a picture-perfect beach? Where else do people click after a handshake and hiss at someone to get their attention? Would I ever see a motorbike drive past me again with a cow’s head attached to the back? And how long would it be until I sat with a Swiss medical student on a roof in Ghana late at night as we both got fucked up? Luckily I missed the headless, chopped up corpse on the side of the road that day…
I suppose that’s the obroni irony of it all: although nothing felt real at the time and I’ve conveyed my experience as a Grand Theft Auto game, the last two months in Ghana had, truly, been the ultimate ‘real’ experience. I had experienced the life of a working journalist in a third world country. I had sipped up the rewarding feeling of enjoying an alien culture. I had met some unforgettable people; had some unforgettable times; seen some unforgettable things. With this I leave the game of Grand Theft Ghana completed as I stumbled once more through the crowded busy streets of Cape and into my parting taxi. Kofi was leaving this joint. The quest had been completed.
The map of Cape Coast still stood beckoning with a hub of life and activity as I left – my obroni presence and experiences still seeping out the rusty wooden walls that surrounded the poverty-bitten streets. The sun still baking down upon my turned back. Truly a 5 star game. And with that thought I logged out and made my descent back to harsh reality; a place where you couldn’t sit singing on a beach with people from all around the world. A place where you couldn’t walk past elephants and monkeys in the lush, green sea of a Ghanaian jungle. A place where you couldn’t witness a poor town turn into a festival of richness. I guess if this was really a computer game and none of these incredible experiences were real, and none these great people actually physically existed, well – someone hit the restart button. As the Ghanaians say:
Dedicated to: Alanna Rachelle-Shegog, Alice Foley, Alyssa Gerth, Amy Milner, Benjamin, Becky, Becky Cooke, Bush, Cameron Henderson, Caren Van Roekel, Caroline Nienhaus, Cat, Charlie Wing, Chile, Cyndel Thomas, Daniella Rs, El-Eini Michelle, Elizabeth, Elke, Eric Ekow Ewusie, Eva, Ewmon Hickey, Fran Long-Leather, Grant Appiah, Hannah Knox, Hannah Remo, Harry Abrahams, Hattie Clarkson James Quinn, Jane Beecher, Jenna Smith, Jery, Joseph Acqua and all my host family, Kate Potter, Kwamina Bamfo, Callum, Johnny, Paddy (all the GVP group), Lenneke Sipkes, Liam Sharpe, Liam, Ian, John, John, Seany, and all the Irish guys, Marco Tomasina, Madeline White, Margot Kaufmann, Marie Maab, Matt Andrew, Meghan Ingerick, Natasha Goran, Nicolas Murner, Oasis, Osman, Oli Griffin, Ogyatsa Mickey, Paul, Patience and Patricia, Prince, Moonshine, Sunshine, Bow Wow, Moses, Shackles, Black, Ayman (all the 4/20 crew), Saul Sebag-Montefiore, Shany Benzakein, Tequila the guard dog, Tim-Grieve Price, Wil Doran, and everyone I met in Ghana. Oh and not forgetting that lovely New York family who picked me up when stranded up north.