The rules are simple: relax, enjoy, dance and keep an eye on the road. Not because of traffic, which also can be quite dangerous, but because you really do not want to spoil the night by ending up in one of Accra’s open sewers….
Tonight I am meeting some friends at Duncan’s, a spot just off Accra’s main street, where locals and expats intermingle. The night is hot, a fresh Star, the locally brewed beer, a good way to quench my thirst. My legs are sticking to the plastic chair, the music fills my head, makes it hard for me to understand what my friends are talking about.
“Have you been to Greece?” one of my friends yells, sweat running down his face.
“Greece? No, never, why?” I shout back at him.
“You have been in Accra for three months and you have never been to Greece?” he asks me.
“What?!” I say, thinking I have not understood him well.
“Duncan should take you there” he says decisively, and he calls the owner of the spot “Duncan! Can you take my friend to Greece?”
The owner, a friendly Ghanaian, nods his head “Of course!”
I look at my friend. “What is Greece?!”.
“Just wait and see,” he says mysteriously, while Duncan starts walking.
I get up from my chair and hurry behind him.
We walk through the dark cobble stoned streets, onto an even darker dirt road, filled with potholes. There are no streetlights here. I cannot see where I put my feet, but luckily Duncan knows the road well and I try to follow his footsteps. We arrive to a big run down house, where Duncan leads me to a dark porch.
“You can sit here,” he says as he points to a small wooden bank.
“This is Greece?” I ask him as I sit down.
“This is Greece!” he says and disappears into the house.
I look around me, slightly surprised. I am sitting on the porch of a big wooden house. In front of it Greek columns, a bit out of place here in Accra, but hence the name Greece!
Duncan comes back with a bottle and a small glass.
“Akpeteshie!” he says, showing me the liquor.
I have come to Greece to try Ghana’s famous local gin, a home brewed liquor made from distilled palm wine or sugar can juice, with an alcohol strength between 40% and 50%.
Akpeteshie forms an important part of Ghana’s history. In the pre-colonial era, imported liquor like gin and rum where used in rituals to honour the ancestors. From the 1930s onwards, when the import of gin was restricted, the locally brewed akpeteshie gained in popularity. However, many chiefs refused to use akpeteshie in their rituals, looking upon it as a “bastard” drink, associated with lower and working-class life. Today it is still a popular drink and many people, illegally, brew it at home.
Duncan pours a little bit of akpeteshie in a shot glass and hands it over to me. A strange scene, a Dutch girl on the porch of a Ghanaian house called “Greece” drinking akpeteshie in the middle of the night. As I smell the drink my eyes almost start to tear. I decide to drink it in one gulp. I count to three. One, two……three! As I swallow, the liquor burns my throat, I can feel it finding its way to my belly.
“Wow that is strong!” I utter while coughing.
“They do not call it hot for nothing”, Duncan says smiling. “One more?”
“No thank you.” I answer and hand the glass back over to him. This drink is a bit too strong for my taste!
Duncan enters the house to save the bottle. Together, we leave “Greece” and find our way back through the dark. This time it is even harder not to sprain my ankles: apart from the bad road, my vision has become a bit blurry. That akpeteshie sure works…
When we arrive to the “spot” I drop down on one of the plastic chairs. My friends smile at me. “How was Greece?” they ask me, laughing.
“I think I will have a glass of water,” I answer, the Ghanaian drink still burning in my chest. I guess going to “Greece” is a ritual on its own. A way to welcome new expatriates to Accra. What else will this African night have in store for me? I hope it does not involve an open sewer….
photo by Stig Nygaard on Flickr