Accra, and the Future

Mine is not a travel blog. Though I travel all the time, the places I go and the situations I encounter don’t fit the “wine and cheese” feel-good stories that make travel blogs so cathartic. Castles in Europe; deep wide lakes in front of a charming log cabin, a log fire burning and delicate spirits enlivening the leisure; an African safari, hunting elephants and rhinos with a camera lens.

Not me. The Anthony Bourdain of civil war and famine and communism; doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

Sure, I’ve been to the lovely places; stone town in Zanzibar eating curry chicken beside an open window over the cobblestone streets where a little boy plays with sticks; a bowl of that weird lentil and noodle and crunchy-onion concoction in downtown Cairo that is so great for a hangover after a night watching belly-dancing; an alpaca steak on a 2nd floor balcony restaurant in front of the cathedral in Cuzco, Peru. Yup – I do think I would have a lot to say, in another career (or maybe in my next career, if I’m lucky…)

It’s not that these experiences feel shallow – life is about goodness and richness and experience and decency and pleasure, of course – even (or I’d say especially) the poor and the downtrodden and the war-oppressed know this. But writing about how lean an alpaca steak is for some reason feels to me like it would offend the victims of so great a suffering. So I don’t, at least not right now. Again, what the future holds…

All this to say I just spent a few days in Accra, Ghana. A conference – to be sure. Hotel conference room to hotel buffet. You know. But the escape from my war was nice. Not as nice as it would have been if I were touring the old slaving forts and remembering that people hundreds of years ago also fought to be free from oppression (there, see I did it again. I can’t seem to help myself). But just standing in front of the ocean remembering its immensity. Watching travelers and tourists who were not burdened daily with the misery of people they try to help, but cannot.

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Africa is a vibrant place – for those who haven’t been, its not all war and misery (although you wouldn’t know that reading my stuff). Music. Color and life. Ghana has a lot of color – dread-locked folks selling red and green and gold; t-shirts and bracelets and sandals. Music blaring from the back of a pickup truck. Little tiny green taxis, beaten up and abused, rushing to and fro in the bustling traffic. The food, seafood of course.

The future.

Africa is the future, did you know that? Add it all up, but if you’re looking for positive momentum, it’s in Africa. Economic growth, increases in education, increases in social media, growth of a middle class. The increase not only in productivity but also in the sophistication of the markets. All of it. Sure, it’s miserable in so many places; and there are plenty of wars. But in Accra you can feel the energy of the future like a primal force that moves around the currents in a rain-swollen river; it scares you and there’s no certainty or security and you wonder if you should jump in but you also know that if you do it will take you somewhere new and exciting. In Accra you can see why.

When I first got to Africa 20 years ago, it was different. Granted, I arrived for a war – of course. Another war, one that ended a long time ago, although the violence continues – isn’t that always the case in Africa? But there didn’t feel the same kind of energy as there does today in places where Africans are finally saying “no” to the victimization of their parents, who only complained about colonialism, and embracing the creation of their own future.

The future is going to be African – I think. If they can make it, if they can harness their energy and their youth. In Accra, the future might even have arrived.

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About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright, author of the recently released novel "Lords of Misrule" about jihad in the Sahara. Joel has also written "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio".
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