When I was in Ada, I was always around welcoming people. As I walked down the road, everyone would greet me. Little kids would run out to say hello. I was constantly running into kids from school who would smile and shyly nod, “Miss Robin.” I knew plenty of people in the village, though they were either mostly younger students and older teachers, so I didn’t have any real contemporaries. But I was okay with that.
My first few nights at the hostel, I had a lot of “single-serving friends,” as Edward Norton says in Fight Club. There would be other girls in the room who would stay for a night or two. We might go out to eat or to a spot bar. Maybe we’d chat about the places we missed in the U.S. while drying out our hair or sharing the mirror. And then they would leave – they would go off to their flight, their village, or their internship assignment – and I would stay. The Salvation Army hostel is a place most people stay in for a night or two, but I was there for four weeks. For good.
There was Sugandi, a lady from Sri Lanka who was in the room too with her daughter Lisa (Lisaline). The poor lady had been in the hostel for nine months. She was waiting to get a visa to meet her husband in Paris. As far as I know, she’s still there. She keeps on going to the embassy, and they keep on telling her, “Two weeks.” Such a sad story, and such a kind lady. In the morning, she would make tea or Milo, a Ghanaian version of hot chocolate. Lisa would approach me and present the cup with a little smile. Sugandi could not be nicer, and Lisa could not be cuter. But I still didn’t have any friends. I knew a few locals through Kelvin or other guests at the hostel, but at least at that point, we weren’t that close. I didn’t have any girlfriends I could just chat with, grab a bite with, or easily relate to.
And then Annie came. Annie is from England. She has bright blond hair, a cheery smile, a great accent, and is one of the friendliest, silliest people I know.
When I walked into the room my first week there, after a long day at work and an evening at the beach with one of my local friends, I saw two new bags in the room. I didn’t bother making conversation beyond “hey what’s your name where are you from.” They would be gone the next day anyway.
But the next day came, and Annie was still there. “How long are you here for?” she asked as I set my bag down on my bed. “I saw they have a sign that says you can only stay for a week?”
I laughed bitterly. “Yeah, that’s not true. I’m here for four.”
“Really? That’s awesome. Cause I think I might be here for a while. I’m in Ghana til September and I haven’t worked out any other place to stay.”
My heart fluttered. Could I have a friend? At last?
We went out for gelato at Arlecchino’s that night (expensive, but so worth it). We laughed, gushed, and commiserated over Ghana. She was doing research on the effectiveness of volunteerism, having come back two years after being a volunteer herself. On the way back to the hostel, we ran into some of the guys who sell things on the street who had been bothering me for the past few days. I steeled my shoulders and got ready brush past them with, “No thank you, sir.” That’s when she greeted them with, “Hey, Calobash! Black Rasta! This is my friend Robin.” Our friendship was cemented.
And then Saskia came.
I was coming back late one Thursday after being at the village for the day. I climbed the steps to the second floor courtyard of the hostel, half-asleep. Suddenly a tall, elegant girl in blue slacks and a peasant top stopped me.
“Excuse me, are you Robin?”
“Yes,” I wrinkled my forehead, surprised.
“I am Saskia,” she said in a slight accent.
“Oh my God, Saskia, hey! Kelvin told me you might be coming.”
Saskia was my professor Jesse Shipley’s assistant, for Jesse’s documentary on the Black Stars. Jesse had called Kelvin because Saskia was looking for a place to stay, so Kelvin of course recommended the same place he’d suggested to me: the lovely Salvation Army hostel.
By a great stroke of luck, Saskia ended up in my room. We got to talking, and it turned out we shared a ton of interests: art, culture, hip life music, getting the local experience. Saskia is a student in Berlin writing her thesis on hip life – what Jesse’s work is on; a type of music in Ghana that combines traditional African high life with contemporary hip hop. Saskia models too, and she sure looks like one with her high cheekbones, long amber hair, and chic gray dresses.
Suddenly I had gone from no friends, to two. Saskia, Annie, and I made a team. In the morning, we would buy pineapple from the ladies on the street and walk over to Frankie’s café for a loaf of warm brioche. We would go out to spot bars at night, or during the day get taken around by Saskia’s Ghanaian friends. When I developed an allergic reaction to massive mosquito bites on my legs, they took me to the hospital and picked me up fried rice. When we would get back at any hour past 9 pm and Sugandi would have the lights off and door locked, we would knock on the door and cower outside together.
I had friends. Life was looking up.