The story so far – born in Ghana, raised in the UK, it was time to go back to the place of my birth.
Me, my parents, a 50-year-old map of Takoradi and a bunch of old photographs. Oh, and a Ghanaian name, Yaw, that I never knew I had.
Patrick, our driver, hired for the duration, isn’t entirely convinced.
“You want to go here, here, here and here?”, he says, doubtfully, pointing at the map.
Born in Ghana, raised in the UK
Now Takoradi is an industrial port city, and isn’t exactly on the Ghana tourist circuit, but it does its best with what it’s got. There’s a market. There are beaches. So to be fair to Patrick, he is a bit non-plussed why anyone would want to visit 1. Elder Dempster shipping line offices, 2. Government Technical Secondary School, 3. Maxmart supermarket, 4. Takoradi Polytechnic, 5. Takoradi Sports Club, and 6. Takoradi General Hospital.
The first five on the list are a trip down memory lane for mum and dad. The shipping firm that brought them here from the UK; the two schools where my father taught metalwork and technical drawing; the supermarket they sometimes shopped in; the sports and social club where 1960s’ expats gathered to swim and drink beer – the bar still open but the palm-fringed pool long since abandoned and derelict.
We encounter nothing but kindness, mixed with occasional incomprehension (“You want to come in and look round the school? This school? Now? Are you sure?”), but whenever things look to be at an impasse I play my trump card. I whip out my passport, point to the birthplace line and announce, “See, I’m Ghanaian! My name is Yaw!”
It works every time.
By now, even Patrick is getting into the spirit of things, and questions locals fiercely as we search for the house that the folks once lived in. He seems personally affronted that assorted builders, schoolchildren, shop-workers and market-traders can’t recall a bungalow by a banana tree on a hill near a church, or whatever random fact it is that mum has just decided must mean it’s ‘our’ house.
A plantain-lined garden where my baby basket was once placed
Eventually, Patrick’s forensic questioning prevails.
Mum and dad pose for photographs in front of their old house. Forty-six years fall away, like blossom from the garden flowers, and a young married couple, with their lives before them, take baby to the market and learn to sail in the warm harbour waters.
Later, we drive around the harbour – an industrial place of sheds and warehouses – but Takoradi Sailing Club is long gone.
Taking baby to market
The market though – according to the folks – is exactly at it ever was. I read this later, in mum’s travel diary, which she says she could have written four decades ago, so little have things changed:
Dried fish, palmnuts, pyramids of tomatoes, chillis, pawpaw – and heaps of dried refuse, broken wood and straw, and chickens with their legs tethered. And a mother, scrubbing diligently at her one-year-old, naked astride a gutter, a calabash of clean water emptied over him.
I’m a bit of a curiosity in any case. This is not a tourist market, and strangers cause a bit of a stir. Especially when – in reply to the question, “Hey, where you from?” – I can say, quite truthfully. “Takoradi. This is where I was born”.
That gets warm approval, but when they ask my name and I say “My name is Yaw”, there’s almost a riot. The stallholders like that I was born in Takoradi. They LOVE that I also have a Ghanaian name.
There’s one more stop on this journey into my Ghanaian past.
We arrive at Takoradi General Hospital and follow mum as she strides confidently through narrow corridors, dredging up decades-old memories. Sick people turn their heads at this strange little party, but mum is undeterred. “This is it”, she says, as we find the original front of the building, the wide window-lit corridor, and the stairs up to the maternity ward.
One of the many extraordinary things about my extraordinary parents is that it didn’t occur to them that mum might go back to England to give birth – as every other expat mother did, in 1960s’ Ghana, while the fathers worked on, waiting months to see their child. She wasn’t going to leave dad, and go back on her own, when this is where she lived, and that was that.
So she gave birth to her first child – me, Julian, Yaw – in the very basic delivery room at Takoradi General Hospital, and this is where I now stand, next to my mum, holding her hand.
Standing in the room in which I was born.
Want to see more of my Ghana stories?
Born in Ghana – read Part 1 of this story, where it all began
My name is Yaw – the day I went back to Takoradi market
Giant snails and soccer magazines – a visit to Kumasi, largest market in West Africa