By Todd Watson
“Ahhhh!!! Rastaman! You are Welcome,” said Papajah, a 60-year-old Rastafarian, as he beamed at me from behind the bar.
In America, I would have been confused by a term of endearment of this sort. As an average twenty-something white American, “Rastaman” would be close to the bottom of my list of self-descriptions, but in Ghana, effusive gestures of hospitality are the norm. Almost every passersby greets you with “you are welcome,” meaning “you are welcome in Ghana.” Papajah had been playfully praising me with the name “Rastaman” because I had stumbled upon his secret garden – Akuma Village, his bungalow hotel that is seated on a rocky outcrop overlooking the beach in Accra.
It had all happened unexpectedly. One day I had had an impulsive desire to buy an American-style guitar and I spent several hours crisscrossing around Accra in taxis, searching everywhere for one. I finally met a 19-year-old drum-maker named Mohammed Nsoh at the “Arts Center” on the beach, who said he knew where to find one. As is quite common in Accra, Mohammed offered to be my guide for the afternoon, taking me to Akuma Village. Once we arrived I met Papajah, who offered to rent me one of his several guitars.
This would be the first of many visits I made to Akuma Village.
The place was decidedly Rastafarian. Papajah usually had reggae music playing on the stereo and several local musicians hanging out, playing kashakas (a percussion instrument made from two small hollow gourds filled with pebbles and tied together with a length of string).
Despite the surrounding poverty, it was strikingly beautiful inside the high walls of Akuma Village. A leafy yard greeted me as I walked through the gates. From the bluff’s edge, where there were tables and chairs, I could see an expansive panorama of the ocean and shoreline. This stretch of beach was heavily trafficked by Ghana’s legendary fishermen, and I could usually see them in their brightly colored boats, trawling the shallows in front of Akuma. A stairway of sorts that was carved into the rocks, winded down from the top of the bluff to the sandy beach below. However, as the ocean is a repository for much of the city’s waste, this was no place to swim.
The nights at Akuma were truly singular experiences. When the electricity was working, (which was only about half the time as it is one of Ghana’s biggest infrastructure flaws) the trees and thatched roofs would be strung with dimly-glowing multi-colored lights. The little light produced did not prevent me from seeing the moon reflect brightly in the waves; their crashes seeming to be amplified in the inky stillness.
Seated at the edge of the bluff, I could see an outdoor nightclub about a hundred yards down the beach, though at night, all I could clearly make out was a single red light at the top. I went there once with Mohammed, who had since become a good friend. As we approached the club, I realized that what I had thought to be a red light was really the entrance – an illuminated red curtain that hung from a stand-alone portal. Through the portal, a steep stairway led down into an amphitheatre, just a stone’s throw from the ocean.
Mohammed and I watched a large reggae band play until, suddenly, the electricity went out. The band hesitated for only a moment before picking up acoustic instruments and resuming for several more hours; it was truly magical. At that moment, the music blended heavily with the sounds of the ocean and, even without light, I could see the waves exploding against the rocky shore.
During my time at Akuma, I wondered why it wasn’t more popular. There were only a handful of Europeans and Africans there, though tourists were all over the city. One truth is that Papajah isn’t too friendly with the internet, and thus doesn’t have a webpage. Akuma can be read about in various travel books and websites, but many of them advise against staying there for its lack of accommodations. True, the accommodations are meager, but the rent is cheap (10 to 15 dollars a night), and the experience inimitable.