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Looking For Water

By Colyn Alcock

When the rainy season kicks off in Ghana, a strange metamorphosis
overcomes the locals. Down Cantonments Road, the usual jovial swagger is
lost under the graying skies and replaced by a sullen, cagey attitude, even
bad temper. I think there is genuinely something here about the
way climate affects people, when the sun came back, the smiles broadened
once more as Ghanaians reveled in their lifeblood, sunshine.

I recently changed to an even cheaper lodging, Hotel Christiansborg. For 10
dollars a night I get a fair sized room with lounge and bathroom, watched
over by the owner, Old Man Benjamin. When I arrived he warned me sternly
that he knew my Ghana friend and her reputation for trashing hotels and asked me to
keep the Benin Bomber under control. No easy task! But Old Man Benjamin has
been worried about a far more serious problem this week. We moved in on
Sunday. On Monday the water did little more than splutter out of the taps
and on Tuesday it died altogether. I asked him when it would be fixed “it’s
a problem” he sighed. Wednesday brought no running water and on Thursday
Mubarak and I had to go out and buy 100 satchets of drinking water for my
ablutions. Again I spoke about the matter to Old Man Benjamin. He shook his
head resignedly and explained he was calling the water company every day and
that now “it’s a big problem”. By Friday afternoon, he was instructing the
maid Becky to scour the neighborhood and return with buckets of water that
were transferred to one huge container in the bathroom. Becky is one of the
life’s cheerful souls and so she willingly trotted up and down stairs,
balancing the bucket on her head. Like one of the minor characters you meet
in 1930’s Hollywood films set in the deep south of the US, Becky greets me
every morning with a beaming smile and “how are you today, Mr. Colyn?”.

Rainwater dripped down the window panes but inside Hotel
Christiansborg, the drought continued. I took the my new Ghana friends away for the
weekend, with Old Man Benjamin assuring me that when
we return “big problem will be no more”. Returning on Sunday night, the taps
still gave little more than a pathetic cough. My friend, Princess was thinking of
washing her hair in beer, which comes a lot more expensive, believe me.

“What can we do, Mr. Benjamin?” I cried. “Now, it’s a very big problem…” he
confessed “there is no water in the whole of Osu (the neighbourhood)”. “So,
how do we shower – we go out in the rain??”

I sought out Becky, “please can you find us water”. She sighed “no water in
Osu”. So, I pulled a wad of dash out of my pocket, “please find us
water. She smiled mischievously and rounded up some people. Armed with
buckets, acting on her instructions, they went from room to room, stealing
water from the containers of other guests. I kept my washed face out of
reception that night.

At least by Monday night, Old Man Benjamin was a little more relaxed,
“problem fixed soon” he said “water company is working round the clock”.
Unfortunately, this drought coincided with my first attack of African belly
and the need for a flushing toilet became pressing to say the least. On
Tuesday morning, before going to school, I had to wander the streets looking
for a usable bathroom. I went into another local hotel and ask to use their
facilities. No problem. However, on entering the loo, I was alarmed to find
no paper available. Walking downstairs in a fast and agitated manner, I went
back to reception to ask for paper, but the guy had vanished. With my
stomach playing the bowel symphony, in very fast movements, I ran back to
the bathroom. What could I use? There was only one solution. I opened my
wallet and took out 1000 cedis (about 10 cents) and sat down in blessed
relief. I know that is not a very respectful way to treat the currency of my
host nation, but as a spokesman of the World Bank said recently “this
currency is worth shit”.

Thankfully, running water is now flowing once more in Hotel Christiansborg,
“big problem is solved” and the sun is shining on Ghanaians again