In Kumasi we live in a new, large, white apartment block, imposingly fresh on the join between two roads; one asphalt, one dirt. During the day I park my car admidst the weeds and fire scars on the dirt. The asphalt isn’t much better, dissolving at the edges into potholes and run off. On one side of us are older, stately homes, with barbed wire atop their fences and large black gates. Security men sit patiently outside the gates watching.
The other side is a government school, with older one and two storey yellow buildings with brown painted shutters reflecting the yellow and brown of the uniforms and the rusted irons roofs. The children start arriving at 6.30am to sweep the playground, there are no groundsmen at this school. The playground is a large, dusty yard, brushed clean of all grass by hundreds of football playing feet and the grass brooms of the children. A large tree provides some shade. A new school block is being built, throughout the day children rush behind it to urinate. I wonder what the toilets must be like. The school buildings are used for funerals on the weekends, and most nights we can hear the screaming of evangelical pastors, communicating in tongue with their God and their flock.
On the far side of the school are shanties. Many are small stores providing the children with a canteen for school lunch. The shanty houses stretch back a large block. A high tension power line passes through the middle and goats are the constant pedestrians.
If we walk along the back road, we pass through small, neighbourhood markets with yams and garden eggs, small mounds of tomatoes and chillies. When I walk by myself, the store holders and I extol the morning’s greetings to each other. If the children accompany me, there is the invariable gaggle of children and the cries of ‘obuni!’, looking for a wave, a smile; the common ground of the child.
Initially I felt an awkwardness about being the white woman in the big, new house. Perhaps we’ve been here long enough for the novelty to be wearing out, or maybe I am just getting accoustomed to it. People no longer shout greetings to catch my attention when I’m standing on our third storey verandah. But the eye contact and the waves, from both adults and children alike, persists.
It’s an old suburb, a good area. Everything we need is close by. We are part of the gentrification…the pushing out of the old, and in with the new. But I look to Accra, where towers of apartment blocks, with lifts and crystal clear pools dominate the central residential areas. Is this what they mean when they say developing country? The growing wealth, the growing middle, and upper classes?
In these old suburbs the blocks are large. I look over large grassy yards, with a modest house tucked along the side. Our block is owned by a lovely man. In this profoundly hierarchical society, he is the ‘Senior Brother’. A true internationalist, he lives in Asia with his North American wife and their children.
A row of smaller houses sit within our block. Some of his family live here, and some work as caretakers for the building. The individualist society of the developed world, meeting with the responsibilities of a traditional society. A family plot made financial. Our landlord visits regularly to supervise the development, but when he leaves, he has created a modern version of the oldest businesses, a family business.