slow down

A boy steadily moves toward becoming a man, and time is hurtling by.

We decide to slow down.

So today our trip is on foot. He’s planned the route with our retro GPS. We call it a map.

We have a goal in mind, his favorite restaurant for a lunch date. Just me and Rhino, and a couple thousand Accra commuters.

We set out and take it all in. Taxis, trotros, transport trucks. All pass by, all noise, horns, and fury. Intersections require vigilance, usually a quick jog, head on a swivel.

The local bike shop is closed today, burlap strewn over the half-built wheels and frames, the dirtied wood slats shuttered but damp from last night’s deluge. Our friends at the shop are conspicuously absent. They must delay their opening when the rains come.

We cross the bridge over what is now an irrigation canal but once might have been a pristine creek. It’s littered with plastic but flowing strong today, seemingly grateful for the midnight burst.

Rhino waves a quick hello to everyone we pass. It’s his way. Some are delighted, others indifferent. Some give a shout.

Ay! Obroni!

We continue on our way, resolute. We pass by Oscar, the Liberian. Who stops us, beseeches us to

Hear me out. Please hear me out.

He’s done this before, we think. And yet, there’s something in the way he speaks that causes us to stop.

My daughter, she’s not well. I have her insulin needle here but I’m running short. Please. Here. Look at my bank statement from this morning.

I glance at the ATM card and statement in his hand. It says the balance is 2.42. He attempted to get money out at 1:42am. The receipt is legit, the story a bit sketchy.

Rhino the newborn arrived in my arms at 1:42. I wonder if this is a sign.

So I ask him a few questions to get at truth. His responses are unsatisfying. And then I explain.

My son is turning 13 tomorrow and I’m trying to set an example of the kind of man I want him to become. What do you think I should do and say in this case?

He seems taken aback.

I just need some help. Just 36.

I pull Rhino aside and we confer. He agrees that there are holes in the man’s story, but makes the point that if it’s legit and we don’t help him, we’ll wish we had. And even if it’s not,

we’re in a position to help.

So we do.

He shakes our hand, we bid goodbye.

And keep walking.

It’s hot, but we’re prepared. Hats, sunscreen, a towel to mop the sweat. A trotro slides by and the Mate sees our fatigue and sweat,and smiles.

Where to? Let’s go!

But riding in a car is not in the cards for us today. Too fast for our plan.

We ramble down the hill, past the chaotic yet ordered intersection of four-lane thruways. The lights are operational (not always the case), so we go with the flow and cross safely, following the lead of locals who’ve navigated this crossing before.

The minarets and central dome of the stunning National Mosque aspire to heaven, a stark contrast against today’s blue sky. The mosque has been a labor of love, in progress since before our arrival.

Things in Ghana often take their time. Like us, today.

Finally nearing completion, the mosque meditates, a paradox across from the shacks of Nima, framed by huge Turkish Airlines billboards, apt signs of the times.

We continue on.

The car wash is bustling. A group of men stand behind a rusted-out white van, two doors fewer than full. The men begin to push, and because it seems right, we dive in behind to help. Rhino on the driver side, struggling to gain hold. I roll at the back with four other men. We heave and struggle. The van lurches. I encourage the other men to push faster. 20 meters later and it appears we’ve reached our destination. A parking stall, readying for a bath.

High fives all around and a big hug of gratitude for Rhino, and we’re off again.

Next stop, 37 hospital. Weigh station for bats. Rest stop for us.

Rhino slides the towel across his glistening brow, sips his water.

How you doing, bud?

Okay. It’s hot.


We look up.

Thousands of bats. Most slumbering. This can’t be real. We’re in the heart of a city of over a million people, but there are probably double that in bats, living here, at one of the busiest intersections in West Africa. Thank god for trees. The bats snicker and pop, most snoozing but a few stretching their wings, briefly. They’re hard to spot, unless you look closely, unless you take your time.

Rhino takes his time.

It’s been his trademark from day one. He arrived two weeks late. Decided to finally sleep through the night after we’d given up. Learned to take care of his business on his own terms.

I’m going to take my time, thank you very much

He still takes his time. Pausing to observe, mind in the cosmos, always deep in thought.

And so this trek fits. We’ve slowed down, observed, pondered, grown. There’s magic here, in light, in people, in sound, in heat. There is nothing like it in the world.

We’re so glad we’ve come.

We arrive at our restaurant. Hot, sticky, sweaty, but changed. Full of gratitude for where we are and what we have a choice to be able to do.

We finish our lunch and step out into the sunshine. We amble around the corner, still content to take our time.

A rusted, green 16-seat van that must be 45 years old idles in the gravel parking lot, spewing black smoke, adjacent to the Indomie shack peddling fruit. I approach the driver, ask if he can get us home. He says it’s possible but there are a couple transfers involved.

We can take you to 37 but first you must ride to Danqua. Come!

he cajoles with a laugh.

We look at each other and smile. Rhino nods, reassuring, confident. A young man.

We know we’ve found our way home.

Published by Radutti

Teaching in Ha Noi, screwing things up daily but surviving to write about it. ...everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?

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  1. Just beautiful. It almost could be a book chapter. There’s so much to admire here: the coming-of-age lesson, the variety of scenes, the pace that matches Rhino’s prerogative for taking his time. Plus, I actually quite like bats, so I would love to see what they looked like hanging above your heads. Thank you for this awesome piece of writing!


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