Saturday, October 30, 2010

Performance Art-vertising

Walking down Oxford Street the other day in Osu, Accra's shopping-and-restaurants area, I saw this guy all painted up and advertising for Zion Thai Restaurant.

I guess performance art, of a sort, has made it to Ghana.

And if performance art and advertising have already dovetailed here to help this guy create a little business opportunity - for himself and for the restaurant - then that's saying something about Ghana's level of development.

It's amazing what a little peace and stability can do. Next thing will be graffitti and Segway scooters, punk rock and mock political rallies.

By the way, if you live in Accra, do check out Zion Thai - it's in Osu down the Papaye street. And if you like things spicy, order the papaya salad: it'll turn your cheeks the shade of this guy's ankles.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bike, with Basket

I am now the proud owner of a bike with a basket on the front.

Yes, a proper ride-your-poodle-around-the-neighborhood kind of basket. Thank God it doesn't have a daisy printed on it.

Here in Accra, I don't want to take my shiny new Trek mountain bike - lovingly hand-flown in from the US - out around town on errands, leave it locked up outside stores. Plus, I need a bike with some cargo capacity for easy grocery transport. Thus, for the last couple weeks, I've had "buy beater bike" on my to-do list.

So a few days ago I set out from my house, flagged down one of Accra's orange-paneled taxis. This driver was a piece of work. "Six dollars," he said to my "how much," an outrageous price. But I bargained him down in Ghana cedis (the local currency), and off we went to the used bike markets along Nsawam Road, just north of the city's central Nkrumah Circle.

Along the way, this guy played his horn like it was a musical instrument and Accra traffic his band. "Boop, boop!" his thumb danced across the steering wheel, telling two pedestrians: go ahead, please, cross in front of me. "Beep boop-boop," get out of my way, to the car trying to cut him off. "Beep-bop," speed up in front of me, people!

Stopped at a traffic light, he bought a lollipop from a teenage girl pedaling candy down the long row of cars. He unwrapped it and licked it noisily. "It is nice sucker," he said to me gravely, smacking his lips.

He dropped me on Nsawam Road. This is a four lane, gritty, roarin' avenue, the main artery north from the city's center. And, in Accra, it's the place to buy a used bike.

Wandering the sidewalk rows, an alert shopper can find everything from beat-up local coasters to what were, five years ago, the latest mountain bikes in Europe or the US. Here they have a second life, shipped over to "the third world" and ending up in the street markets of West Africa.

Here's a beauty that I found, for instance.

This street-slicks mountain bike had a notably lighter frame than my brand new Trek, and what appeared to be a nice set of shocks and components. Although, just now I've been googling the "Lakes" brand and can't find much about it. So this one is either an awesome machine or the best fake I've ever seen. Either way, it was too expensive for me - even used on the streets of Accra - and so I moved on.

I considered buying one of the local coasters, then, the kind that still have the cute little curved handlebars, the curving dip of the center bar so that you can step easily onto the bicycle without having to swing your leg high and over. The kind that have the rear rack and the front basket and the fenders and the bell and the generator that rubs on the wheel and powers a little headlight - all standard.

Completely take-your-poode-for-a-ride ready.

I ended up, though, settling on an old Giant brand (a respected make) street-rider - complete with rear rack, fenders, and kick stand - something that probably saw many miles in the bike lanes of Oxford or Amsterdam.

I had fallen in love, though, with the image that presents itself often on the streets of Accra: a muscled Ghanaian man, in greasy clothes, barrelling through traffic on what we in the US would call a "grandma bike," that little poodle-basket on the front. And so, I asked my street-side seller of choice, nickname of "Tokyo," to throw a front basket into the deal.

Here's Tokyo attaching that basket...

...while I sit on a wooden bench and watch life go by.

Nothing like a hammer, a metal punch, and a rock to complete a bit of delicate basket-hanger modification!

And so, basket add-on complete, I now had a bike with all the errand-running cargo capacity I could wish for. And I put it to use right away.

I went to the local Wal-Mart-style store. I bought some floor mats. I strapped the three-foot-long mats to my rear carrier rack, and took off under soggy skies.

I stopped at a little side-of-the-road rope shack and bought some string. I put the string in the basket. It started drizzling.

I stopped at a home decor store and bought some hangars and a light bulb. I put those in the basket, too.

And, in the rain, I biked home happily, my daisy-less bike basket full of shopping goodies.

Next thing I'll be putting a poodle in there.