Tuesday, 25 February 2014

'Early Morning Run in... Accra'

Accra, Ghana - 24th Feb, 2014

First light: 0614 hrs
Time start: 0610 hrs
Time finish: 0702 hrs
Weather: 28C Humidity 89% (dry season)
Circumstances: Monday morning, business day

Captain Kirk spoke of space as the final frontier. On earth... the final frontier? Africa. Probably the last place of untapped growth. Where better to witness this than Ghana. A country with a GDP x10 of Sierra Leone, which I departed yesterday. Ghana's widely considered a regional model for political and economic reform. A stable democracy for more than 20 years.

Africa is the world's poorest continent. But, has the largest growth? This growth is uneven. You can't eat GDP. Jobs. Life Security. Electricity. Water. Internet. Schools. Hospitals. Roads. Rail. Seaports. Airports. Telecoms. That's what most Africans want. Ghana is fortunate. Sure some needs improving. The 21st century could belong to Africa.

Hemingway said always do the weather. In the words of Robin Williams, "I've just looked out the car window, it's damn hot." Hotter than a snakes bum... humidity right up there, this won't be fast or pleasurable.

Take a taxi from my accommodation in Greater Accra (Charleston Hotel in Tesano) to the start point in Independence Square. Tesano is a district. Further west is Sodom & Gomorrah the biblical cities destroyed by fire and brimstone. Taxi takes about 15 mins. Given it's not yet 0600 hrs the amount of people already on the move is staggering.

Samuel and I drive at high speed down George Bush Highway. Money for this project was donated by the US when George Bush 2 was President, hence the name. The road is solid and simple...

Taking a taxi means a fanny pack (US & Canada), or a bum bag (UK) - which is worse, bums or fannies? I have money, smartphone, room key (with an oversized slate attached) and map. Samuel was my airport shuttle last night. Samuel, happy 49th birthday.

We talk football. You can't go wrong. Africa loves it. They love the Premier League. Moreover, this is World Cup year. My opening line, "Suarez the cheating git." For those who don't follow football, Luis Suarez cheated Ghana from being the first African team to reach the semi finals in 2010. How Ghana lost that game remains a travesty.

The dying seconds of extra-time. Suarez was sent off for stopping a certain goal with his hands, goalkeeper style. He'd already cleared off the line legally with his knee. Ghana had laid siege to the Uruguayan goal. The airport lounge in Frankfurt, where I watched the game, was at fever pitch willing the Africans to win. After 120 minutes 'The Black Stars' had the resulting penalty kick to win the game. They hit the crossbar. Unbelievable. Then followed the drama of the penalty shoot-out. Uruguay won 4-2. Ghana went home.

Where was I? Oh yes, "Suarez the cheating git." Samuel laughs and believes the Lord will make it right with Ghana this time around. Drawn in a group containing Germany, Portugal & USA they might well need that divine intervention.

We arrive at Independence Square. Backdrop is the Gulf of Guinea to the southern side of this huge parade ground. There's army trucks and buses discharging Ghanian soldiers and bandsmen. They are busy rehearsing for Independence Day on 06th March. The Gold Coast achieved independence from the UK in 1957, becoming the first sub-Saharan African nation to do so from European Colonialism. Ghana (meaning Warrior King)... happy 57th Birthday.

I set off slowly and run past Independence Arch and head north towards the national stadium, where 'The Black Stars' play. It's hot and humid. I continue north up Liberia Road. The roads are wide. Neat trees either side provide a boulevard feel.

I'm running at the centre of the earth this morning. Ghana is geographically closest to the centre of the world. The notional centre, (0°, 0°) is in the Atlantic Ocean 600 kms south of Accra. Another thought goes through my mind. I'm totally surrounded by the French: Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Togo. Imagine being surrounded by the French?

A general knowledge question. The capital of Burkina Faso? I once dreamt this was the final question on Millionaire. The only lifeline left is 'phone a friend'. 4 options. Pick correctly and win the million pounds. (a) Timbuktu (b) Nouakchott (c) Ouagadougou (d) Yaounde. Answer bottom of the page...

I'm seeing plenty of ministries and various departments and agencies of government. The National Theatre on my left is impressive and distinct. Across the road is the Movenpick Hotel. A big hotel with big prices at $400 a night. Move onto Independence Avenue heading northeast. Been going only 15 mins and feel drained. Pace slowing. A long slow drag up past the Nigerian Embassy. Next door the Canadian Embassy. Fortunately Team Canada won the Hockey Gold Medal yesterday so the flag isn't half mast. Congratulations Arthur. Congratulations Canada.

Southeast onto Ring Road. Just want this finished. I'm running like an eighty year old. Reminds me, how do you get a sweet little 80-year-old granny to say the F word? Get another sweet little 80-year-old lady to yell *BINGO*. This run isn't so funny. 30 mins in, think about taking a taxi back to my taxi...

Where am I? Sun behind me, keep taking roads west, or head south and hit the ocean. Never been affected by humidity like this before. I see the floodlights high above the National Stadium in the middle distance. Thankfully. No finishing kick on this run. Just survival...

Circle the stadium, back through the Arch and over the road. Soldiers are marching up and down. The band is playing. Brings back memories. Samuel is waving, probably wondering where I'd got to. 52 mins. Sweating heavily. Glad Samuel has leather seats. Samuel is pleased to see me. We drive back to the hotel.

A 10-day break in UK begins Sunday. The next run will be a complete contrast. London. The next African run will be in Conakry, Guinea.

Finish with a namecheck. You're stuck in an elevator in Accra with a Lion, a Black Mamba and a lawyer (JC - for you, see you next week). You have a gun with only 2 bullets. What do you do? We all know it's shoot the lawyer twice.

Answer (c) Ouagadougou.