Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-GHANA

Running in AccraWhoever came up with the adage Ignorance is Bliss is a genius! And trust me it has everything to do with my run in Ghana this week. Now let’s rewind 48 hours before I left for Ghana … I went hiking up the Aberdare ranges on Elephant Hill. Not only was it tough, forcing me to sleep on the way twice (don’t underestimate the strength of a 10 minute power nap), but I had to pass through two types of forests and use paths used by elephants. As adorable as they are, and I support the Hands off our Elephants campaign… passing through their routes was rough. So that was Saturday through to Sunday morning and that night I flew to Ghana.

So with jelly legs, I took to the streets of Accra. Ignorance case number 1) “Oh I can do this, besides I was hiking at high altitude and well Accra is at sea level.” Wrong! The run was hard work, fatigue from hiking and the fact that I had not quite rested after the flight, made my feet feel rather heavy though I did somehow manage to run 10kms on day 1.

Ignorance case number 2). The one thing most Africans love about Ghana is their Ankara Fabric and my second day target route was go to the market and get some fabric. So as usual I went to the concierge and asked, “How far is the market, I would like to run and get fabric,” and as expected the enthusiastic concierge responded, “ Ehe Ma, the kind of fabric you need is Vlisco,” and I flippantly replied, “to be honest all I need is brightly colored fabric, trust me, a Kenyan wouldn’t know the difference.” “No Ma, you need good quality Ankara,” he insisted and I grudgingly gave in. So, for those who have met me post running the most comfortable color I wear is funeral, jet black, and occasionally throw in a splash of color, and I definitely do not wear brightly colored printed frocks! So why, this overnight sense of overwhelming Pan Africanism to the point of wearing brightly colored African frocks?

For the historically hopeless, in 1952 Ghana was the first country in Africa to get independence and the birth of Pan Africanism started in this country through its founding president Kwame Nkrumah. So running in the (very clean) streets of Accra, you are exposed to a fusion of Afrocentric Modernism, so beer adverts that say Black is Not a Color but an Attitude or Black Creates the Rules is common. Of course the banner has an Ankara around it. Even the corporate adverts had visuals in Ankara, including Miss Tourism Ghana who was wearing one.

So armed with this new found sense of Pan Africanism, I felt I could add a few colored frocks to my closest and have some sense of nationalism and maybe get inspired to do something crazy as save the earth, elephants or perhaps find a solution to peace in the Middle East, as beauty pageant queens try to convince us. Besides, I just found out that Black is an attitude.

This led me to Ignorance case number 3). I started my run looking for the market that sold the famous Vlisco Ankara fabric. 4kms into my route I saw the sign Vlisco… and to be honest I wanted to shop in comfort so next to the Vlisco sign was the Woolworths and BillaBong signage. “Bingo,” I thought as I made my way to the building with these signs, assuming it was a mall. So I asked for directions to the shop and sweaty as I was ran up three floors to the store, walked in, and rather confidently asked to be served and that is when I noticed everyone was on a computer and they all incredulously looked at me as this turned out to be… wait for it, the Vlisco head office and not the store!

Quite frankly I did not blame them, I was dressed in sneakers, running gear, sweaty from the hot and humid weather and they gave me the look of there is no way that woman will wear any of our Ankara fabrics (I easily pictured a lady’s hand akimbo, sneering, {Africans are good at that},sizing me up and wagging her finger at me). So they dismissively turned back to work ,however, someone came to serve me. Now, in my defense, from the window I saw mannequins dressed in these fabric and they had the said fabric hanged in a shop display type of way and besides there was a Woolworths and Billabong shop. How on earth was I to know I was walking right into the headquarters!

Anyway, one of the staff gave me directions to where I could get their fabric, from a shop which was another 2 Kms away. So in total I did 7 Kms, a three flight staircase climb, but finally achieved my sense of Pan Africanism. So if any of you see me in a brightly colored frock, just know it was borne out of sweat and pure blissful ignorance! Next stop… South Africa, yes I know we have a story from here. But who knows what humorous experience I will have here again.