Monday, March 9, 2009

Flip flops, dreamers, and Sensible Shoes

When we finally got to the airport in Accra I just left the flip flops in the back of Joseph's car along with the empty Fanta can. Shedding them like a snake skin, they were dusty and flattened with wear. The 7 Cedis I had spent for them had been squeezed out of them long ago, but now I was headed for cooler climes. I figured it was time for Sensible Shoes.

I hadn't really planned on hiking through the jungle to see a waterfall on the day we left. The clothes I was wearing in the morning were going to be the clothes I had to wear on the plane. When we arrived at the reception desk for the Wli waterfall, the guide said it was a 45 minute hike in and a 45 minute hike out. That seemed a little daunting for three reasons. First, it was 1 PM in the afternoon and the sun was hot. Second, we had a long ride back to Accra for our flight. Thirdly, I'm not a hiker and I had no other shoes except my flip flops. But once there, we were committed, so off we set down a fairly level path through the forest along a clear stream running along the jungle floor. We traveled over 9 small bridges along the path through the lush undergrowth. A steep grassy mountainside rose up on one side of the river valley, the forest covering the other steep bank of the canyon through which we walked. As we drew nearer to the falls, the forest thinned and I notice we were walking on a rock ledge covered with a thin layer of sand.

We felt it before we saw it. The air seemed cooler. As we rounded a bend in the path, there it was, curtains of water let loose from a lip of rock high above our heads. The water fell almost silently to a sandy pool nestled at the base of a rocky grotto. Lush green plants clung to the walls of the canyon, the waterfall dwarfing everything around it.

The walk through the jungle had been shady, but even in the relative coolness of the forest, we were sticky and hot. Gusts of misty cool air stirred by the falling water drew us like a magnet toward the pool. Off came the flip flops and I waded into the water up to my shins. Apart from a few flat rocks, the bottom was sandy and soft. As I stood there, feet in the water, I craned my neck, looking upward and saw dozens of bats swooping quickly through the mists where the water first launched from its channel. Then I saw hundreds of bats nestled into the top of the cliff face

No one wanted to leave, but time was passing. Dozens of pastel colored butterflies flew around our feet as we left this oasis of coolness. The hike out didn't seem so long. Along the path we met men chopping wood with machetes and women carrying large bundles of sticks stacked high on their heads. After a lunch of chicken and jollof rice we climbed back into the car.

After our adventures in the north, we headed south toward Accra from where we were to catch our flight to London. As we came closer to the city, the secondary roads became four lane highway. As we approached the airport we took a wrong turn. The person who knew the way had fallen asleep in the back seat of the car and we found ourselves in a crowded market, stalls lining the packed red dirt roadway. The stalls sold everything from food and clothing to shoes and appliances. Every hundred feet or so there was a large scrum of men and boys, their faces all turned facing into the stalls. Those in the back of the crowds were trying to see over the shoulders of those in front of them. It turns out that the Ghana National Team was playing in the African National Tournament. The crowds were gathered around anyone who had a television set or radio. As it was near the end of the game, the concentration was visible in the way the fans were standing and listening. As we sat still, mired in the traffic jam, I became uneasy. Our plane was to leave at 11:30PM, but it was already after 6 and I didn't know how long this might take. Just as I had my moment of unease, Ghana's team scored a goal. A great roar erupted simultaneously from the knots of people around the TVs. Quickly after the goal, Ghana was declared the winner. What had been bonfires of enthusiasm became a conflagration of joy. People who were inching along just stopped their cars. Passengers alighted, horns honked, music blared. As we sat in the eye of the storm, all I could think of was, “Please let me get to the plane on time.”

After some masterful driving by Joseph we reached the airport. Then we said our goodbyes and boarded the plane. Our cabin attendants were performing their last minute checks. A voice came over the sound system saying, “We're going to spray the airplane now. If it bothers you, cover your eyes and mouth for approximately 20 seconds.” In disbelief, Craig and I grabbed whatever we could find to cover our faces and down the aisle they came, one attendant on each side of the plane, spray hissing from the nozzles. After we recovered from the shock we realized that the door had been open to mosquitoes all night. The riot of life to which we had become accustomed, we realized, might be too much for the rest of the world. That's when it hit me. We were leaving. We were leaving the mosquitoes. We were leaving the heat and the stickiness, the thirst and the fear of running out of water. But we were leaving the jungle and lush greenness, too. We were leaving the red earth, the soft air and bright suffused light,. Most of all, we were leaving the dreamers and the dream makers. They showed us a Ghana full promise.

Flip flops were good for Ghana. They got the job done. I don't think dreamers wear Sensible Shoes.

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