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Ghana: a new life in Africa

Catch of the day: fishermen with long boats on Ghana's Gold Coast. Photograph: Richard Dobson/Getty Images     Ghana: a new life in Africa

You've got to have faith – especially when you are exposed to evangelists making 'miracle explosions' in the middle of the night...More Details

Afua Hirsch

There are many plagues in Africa, but the only one seemingly impossible to treat is the curse of bad PR. My malaria-ridden blood regularly boils at the way the continent is depicted; a constant bad-news feed of famines, genocides and disease. The only "positive" coverage surrounding Africa is usually in documentaries about the primitive, tribal heart of the dark continent. I remember telling school friends as a teenager that I was going to Ghana, only to be asked, wide-eyed, how I would cope with encounters with wild animals. Depressingly little has changed. Just last month Radio 4 aired an edition of Excess Baggage, featuring some guy who had travelled along a river that had "never been explored before", ie never explored by a British bloke who planned to write a book about it.

So here I am in the Ghanaian capital Accra – my new home – wearing very stylish shoes thank you very much, with big plans for more realistic stories about life in the continent where the middle class now represents around 35% of the population. But it was only a matter of time before the usual ignorance caught up with me. "Dear Afua: We're currently working on a documentary focusing on incredible survival skills and the human journey in Africa," emailed a film company. "We wondered if you may be able to suggest any ideas. We had been pointed towards the Hadza women who give birth inside baobab trees providing sanctuary from potential predators… Language is also of particular importance, so perhaps a group who still speak with clicks?"

I've travelled around West Africa and I can tell you that you are more likely to hear clicking sounds from a Jamaican kissing their teeth in south London than you are from anyone here. As for women giving birth inside trees, note to self: in the event of pregnancy, forget locating a good maternity clinic and head straight for the nearest forest. I suppose I should have taken my schoolfriends' warnings more seriously.

On the other hand, some stereotypes do ring true. You know how many adverts in the UK seem to involve images of semi-naked women? Well, it's fair to say that the Ghanaian equivalent is pin-ups of pastors. Everywhere you turn are giant billboards advertising "miracle explosions", "rhapsodies of reality" or "supernatural exaltation teaching services". When you meet people for the first time, they don't ask you whether you go to church, they ask you which church you go to.

Friday night in Accra is an endurance test of coping with loud music and sleep deprivation – it's impossible to be more than a street or two away from a charismatic service. I'm always perplexed at the number of missionaries on flights to West Africa – who is there left to convert? And speaking of flights, there was a kerfuffle in economy on my flight to Ghana when a VIP descended from first class to meet and greet the paupers. When I asked a twitchy nearby passenger angling for an autograph who he was, she told me it was her favourite YouTube pastor.

I mentioned this incident to a Ghanaian friend a few days later, prompted by a giant billboard advertising a "miracle blast" by the celebrity pastor on my flight and, I suggested, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to contribute to the extortionate price of his aviation preferences. My friend retorted that he is a very good pastor and the congregation is happy to pay for his plane fares.

"But Jesus wouldn't have travelled first class," I said. "He would have gone by donkey."

"No, no," he insisted, "donkeys were very expensive in Jesus's time. Flying first class or driving a nice 4x4 is the equivalent now." Now that is what I call faith.

Source: The Guardian UK, 18 March 2012



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