Born in Ghana – the boy from Takoradi goes home (Part 1)

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 shorGhana flag, Accrat 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.

Mum and baby, Takoradi market

I was very, very cute. Just saying.

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.

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Image credits
Oil tankers off Takoradi by Ben Sutherland, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Takoradi railway station by Ben Sutherland, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

  1. What a story! I will visit Ghana someday, have lots of friends from there..the names always fascinated me, for them it’s days of the week and for my tribe in Kenya it’s time of the day! I love my continent!


  2. What an exciting journey for you. It might only have a short description in Wikipedia but, from your photos, looks fascinating. Waiting to hear more about adventure!


  3. Awww

    This is quite touching. You look quite happy in the photos plus your wife and child look quite comfortable too.
    I was born on Sunday which makes me Akosua.

    Nice 1.


  4. Fascinating to read your stories of Takoradi. My grandparents lived in Ghana for many years, and my grandmother sailed out to Sekondi for the first time with Elder Dempster, on her own, to marry my grandfather – must have been quite an adventure for a lassie from Aberdeen in the early 1930s!


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