Takoradi is an industrial port city of half a million in the Western Region of Ghana. It’s not really on any travel itineraries, and if you want to know why, you should have a look at its very short Wikipedia page, where the rundown of its industries (timber, shipbuilding, oil, energy, mining) is considerably longer than its tourist attractions.
But I went anyway, because I was born there. As travel writer Bill Bryson said – of his equally challenging birthplace, Des Moines – someone had to be.
I left when I was just under a year old – not on my own, you understand, got the folks to carry me – and, for years, never thought a whole lot about the land of my birth.
The French police were pretty sure I was an illegal immigrant
There were exotic baby pictures, it’s true, and I used to get hauled out of the bus on school trips to France because the zealous French border police were pretty sure that ‘Place of Birth: Takoradi’ must mean I was some kind of illegal immigrant. Consternation all round when their high-profile capture turned out to be a nerdy-looking white English kid with a letter explaining that his dad had once been a teacher in Ghana.
Let’s hear it for dad, by the way, who has never let mere detail get in the way of an adventure. Mum should have known that life was about to get interesting after the whole honeymoon business. She was 21 and had never been abroad before. He had a clapped-out car and thought it entirely sensible to spend the first week of their married life driving overland to Barcelona – in the 1950s, no motorways – where mum promptly got food poisoning and spent the second week in bed.
I recount this simply to point out that coming home one day a couple of years later, and saying ‘Darling, guess what, I’ve got a new job! Not in Derby, no. Not in England, no. Not in Europe, no. Go on, have a guess” was entirely in keeping.
A strange and distant birthplace
So I grew up with a strange and distant birthplace marked in my passport, and as I got older I began to wonder what Takoradi was like. I adopted Ghana as my second national football team – better and way cooler than England, that’s for sure – and hung out in the bar at the Africa Centre in London (long gone, sadly), and discovered that I even had a middle name that no one had told me about.
Turns out that in Ghana you get called after the day of the week on which you were born. Kofi Annan – former Secretary General of the United Nations – was born on a Friday (Kofi) and I’d like to bet that dub poet Linton Kwesi Johsnon A) has some Ghanaian ancestry and B) was born on a Sunday (Kwesi).
My name is Yaw
Me, I was born on a Thursday. My name is Yaw. No one had ever actually called me that, but I was starting to think that maybe they should.
And for that, I was going to have to go back to Ghana.
Forty-odd years after my birth, we planned a trip, my folks and I. (No dad, we are not driving.) My parents had never been back either, since the heady days of Ghanaian independence and the slow entrenchment of democracy. Ghana might be pretty poor by European standards, but it’s one of West Africa’s success stories – a largely stable country, with an educated population and resources of its own.
It was time to go and see where I had been born. It was time to go home.
Want to hear the rest of the story? Subscribe, and you’ll be the first to know!