On my first day at the Daily Guide, Ghana’s most popular independent newspaper, I was just happy I didn’t get sent home at the get-go. Leslie took me into the reception office to meet the paper’s editor, but he wasn’t in. The receptionists gave us skeptical looks but let us sit down while we waited to talk with the news editor.
After a few minutes, he invited us into his office. He’s a tall, slender man, and most days that I see him he’s barefoot. He introduced himself — Alhaji — in a deep voice that boomed. He offered me a seat in the news room and the day’s copy of the Guide. I said my goodbyes to Leslie, mouthing Wish me luck as she walked out.
The other reporters were gone on assignments, so my first task was to read the paper and get used to their writing style. The main articles of the day were stories on some prostitutes who’d been arrested for involvement in robberies and a radio host who’d issued death threats against Supreme Court justices.
The prostitute story showed perhaps the starkest contrast between American and Ghanaian newspapers. The women were arrested under suspicion that they’d helped robbers break into their clients’ homes. At the end of the article, some advice was given to men thinking about hiring a prostitute in the future: bring them to a hotel rather than your private home.
Other articles cited bible verses or had religious themes, including an endorsement of the New Patriotic Party’s presidential frontrunner, Akufo-Addo, from a Catholic ministry and tribal prophets.
I read the paper cover to cover; by the time I’d finished, a woman sat next to me and introduced herself as Mary. She helped me get the wifi password for the office and showed me where the bathroom was, both of which brought a lot of relief.
I returned to my desk and began work on blog posts, then perused several news sites for the day’s headlines. Around 1:00, Mary gave me some coupons and showed me to the cafeteria where lunch is served daily. I gave the coupons to a woman working over two large steaming pots. She gave me the choice of banku, kenkey, or omo tuo.
I chose the omo tuo, which was served in groundnut soup with fish. Mary didn’t eat — I assumed because of Ramadan — so I found a seat outside where I met Henry from the distribution side of the paper. We talked about Ghana’s rising gas prices, and he said he was determined to make his car run off solar.
The groundnut soup was hot… or should I say HOT! My spice tolerance has been tested and has shown significant improvement since I’ve arrived, but this pushed it to new limits. I began sweating through my undershirt, my face flushed new shades of red — I finished off my water on the first three bites and resorted to heavy panting for the rest. That aside, it was delicious.
The editor-in-chief, Fortune Alimi, arrived after lunch. I introduced myself, and he said he was happy to have me, asking how my first day was. I told him I’d had a great time so far — the food was superb — and he left the conversation at that, telling me he looked forward to seeing my work in the future. Back at my desk, I finished a blog post, then fidgeted for a bit before I worked up the nerve to go to Alimi’s office.
He invited me in, and I asked if there were any stories I could help with for the day. He thought for a moment, then asked if I’d read the day’s paper.
I told him I had, and he asked which articles I found interesting.
The prostitute story came to mind first, but I decided to go with,
“Well, the story on the death threats to the judges was pretty good.”
“Perfect!” he said. “I just got a press release on that — go and write a story on it.”
Stunned. Flabbergasted. Flabber-stunned. And terrified, I returned again to my desk. Mary helped me get the press release, and I began reading through it. It was a letter signed by Catholic bishops condemning the comments made by the radio host along with two panelists who also made death threats against the judges.
I opened a blank document and set about to write my story. Immediately, the entire English language crumbled away, except for Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!
What had I gotten myself into? I should have just stayed quiet, stuck to my blog and listening to music. Oh, those were the good old days…
Slowly, more words came to my mind, and I set about arranging them into semi-coherent sentences. Somehow, an article materialized, but I didn’t dare question how. Alhaji told me to send it to Melvin, a reporter sitting across from me, for editing.
I sent him the link, then ran to the bathroom to avoid direct judgment.
He was still reading by the time I returned, and I was sure he thought the whole thing was Shit!
“It’s good. I’ll send it off,” he said. I could have yelped — I would have if I wasn’t trying to make a good first impression.
I packed up my things and said my goodbyes to Melvin, Mary, and the editors. They wished me a safe trip and I set about finding my way to Chez Afrique where I’d be meeting the Media in Ghana group for dinner.
I crumpled in the trotro seat, deflated from the day but beaming with the knowledge that my name would be next to an article in the next day’s paper.
If it wasn’t for that, the ride to the restaurant would have been unbearable. Traffic went along at a literal crawl — by this I mean I could have crawled, bullets in my legs, faster than traffic. I considered doing this, but the blisters on my feet from the heat and my dress shoes told me to endure.
Twice, the trotro died in the middle of the highway. On the first occasion, the driver’s mate got out and tried to clutch-start the van on his own by pushing the van down the road. I got out and pushed with him, and the two of us managed to get the thing going fast enough to get back in the flow — or lack thereof — of traffic. The second time was a bit more interesting. We were scuttling up a hill after just getting off the main road in a graceful break from the standstill. The two of us got out again to try to push it up, but there was no way. The mate yelled something in Twi and all of the men in the van got out to help. Still, it hardly budged. He called out something else and all the women got out too, and we managed, little by little, to get enough speed to start the motor and lurch on through the night.
Two hours later, I came to my stop. I still had a short walk to the restaurant, but it was along a dark street with no one in sight. I heard Dr. Williams’ voice, “As long as you stay around people at night, you’ll be fine.”
I looked down at my camera, thought of the laptop in my bag, and made a run for it. At the end of the street, a man called out, “Obruni!”
I was petrified, but when I looked to the source of the voice, I saw an old man in overalls limping his way towards me. I called back to him, figuring if things did turn sour, I could at least outrun him. He asked where I was going to in such a hurry, and I told him I was just headed down the street where friends were waiting for me.
He offered to walk with me, and while I was still apprehensive, I thought that having any company would help, even if he was a stranger.
On the way, he asked me where I was from and what brought me to the city. He laughed when I told him I was working with the Daily Guide.
“Oh, the controversial paper,” he chuckled.
He was an electrician, taking a break from his work at a very good client’s house — a politician, he said, and a business owner.
We got to the restaurant, and I thanked him graciously for his help. I’d spent all my money on the trotro ride, but I offered him a bracelet for his troubles.
He accepted it smiling, wished me a good night, and made his slow, stuttered way back the way we came.