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  • Accra is not a beautiful city by any stretch of the imagination. It shares an unlovely and unloved feel with many Anglophone West African cities where neither the colonial master nor the post-independence elites took much interest, let alone pride, in the national capital. But it is interesting. And is at its most interesting in the old parts of town, where medieval meets modern and the first and third worlds exist side by side.

    Though a huge urban sprawl of over five million inhabitants, Accra’s centre is still the old settlements of Jamestown, Usherstown and Korle-Gonno. Central Ga-Mashie's high-street winds along the coast past the pungent Korle lagoon, the lively Jamestown fishing harbour, historic James Fort prison and Usher Fort. This small quarter of the city used to be the centre of commercial life in Accra but the main port moved and businesses closed down or gradually migrated to industrial parks and with them the livelihoods of the people of Jamestown.

    Seaview hotel where so many couples spent their honeymoons in the 1950s and 60s is just a shell; painted, like so many buildings in Ghana, with the colours of a mobile phone company. Across the road the lighthouse stands tall still proudly and brightly red and white.

    On the beach front any coconut palms have long been washed away by the encroaching sea currents from the Gulf of Guinea. The Ga fishermen tend their boats and mend their nets while women wait with their baskets clutched to their hips waiting for the fleet to bring in the daily catch which they will take to the market and the Accra streets to sell.

    The city’s rubbish seems to collect along the seashore. Modern debris and organic detritus mix and lie untouched until tropical rains come to wash them into the lagoon or into the sea directly.

    Every year the people of central Accra celebrate their arrival in Ghana all those hundreds of years ago with a thanksgiving celebration called Homowo. The festival begins with a celebration of twins and is followed by a wonderful, colourful parade of the people chiefs, fetish priests and the community drummers. Most households cook the delicious Homowo feast of rich palm-nut soup and fermented maize grain called ‘Kpoi-kpoi’. The tough streets of Accra forget their rubbish and claim some of their former glory as people put on finery, decorate houses and dance till the early hours in celebration.

    I was taken to my first Homowo the year I arrived in Ghana and was welcomed into the old family house of a new friend to commemorate their harvest. There right in the middle of old Jamestown where crowded houses spill onto increasingly narrow streets I realised I felt at home. In that company of a proud and defiant community I began to love the chaos.
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