The sky is pitch Black. Lightning clouds are within arm's reach. The plane shakes in what would be called an earthquake should my feet be on the ground. The seat belt sign comes on as I shut my shade. In a calm voice, the captain informs us of local Ghanian time and gives us the weather down below. We cruise to the runway and the plane erupts in applause. The people are glad to be home [safely]. As we all walk off the plane, I notice the majority of carry-on bags being carried off are grand bottles of "Duty-Free" alcohol. I pay it no mind as I step off the plane and kiss the ground. This is Africa!
I follow the tunnel through customs and tell the guard why I am here. He chuckles and repeats to me "to learn African dishes, hugh?" Confused, I nod my head yes and take my passport. To calm myself from the subtle insult, I think in my head "I bet he can't cook..." I would never say that aloud. Their guns are big. I grab my luggage off the belt and go through about 3-4 more security checkpoints. Everyone asking the same questions and giggling at my responses. What's so funny?
Heading down the ramp, I have the largest grin on my face to be HOME. Immediately, locals notice that I am not really one of them and 12 people approach me offering a taxi. One woman even grabs my bag and heads to her car. I snatch it back and take control of the situation. Is this hospitality or should I check my pockets. How new for me. I make my way through the demanding crowd and get to the end of the sidewalk to take a breath. Cold stares fill my view and quickly remind me of where I am. This is Africa.
A local army guard walks past and I question the nearest hotel. He directs me to a taxi stand and the man takes me to Hostel 67. Why, I will never really understand. 749 turns later, we arrive at a small inn that I guarantee myself is not on the internet; however, its what I can afford. I bargain a price of 20 cedis for the night and unload my luggage. This is where I rest tonight, I'm too bourgeoisie for the bushes.
As I wake in the morning and take 2-day old doughnuts from my bag, I walk to the post office for directions. I meet there a pastor of a small church that offers to guide me to where I desire to go. More hospitality, hugh? He hails a cab with a twiddle of a few fingers. It’s an 8-seater van with 10 people inside already. My questioning facial expression is most likely priceless. We enter regardless. The air is thick. The sun is hot(ter). This taxi-van filled with more humans than it should be forces me to look to the Heavens, and when I do, I’m shocked by the view. Clouds so low it seems the sky is on fire. Beautiful surprises echo in the distances just like India described. However in MY mind, I think... "No wonder these people, MY people, were chosen as slaves..." I glance over to see a little girl carrying nearly 45 pounds of plantains on her head. Balanced perfectly, she is no more the 9 years old. A man in the distance lifts a table that I'd ask for help with. He tosses it over a shoulder and carries on with life. Everyone wears sandals. Looking at my blue and white Nike sneakers, I immediately know why people want to sell me everything.
It’s different coming from Spain and standing out, to Ghana doing the same. Realizing that cars here honk horns for no reason at all, I pray under my breath for God to keep me alive. The constant swerving and slamming on break brings me back to my religion. There are no lanes here; and even where there are, they are not respected. Close calls are everyday life to drivers and pedestrians alike. I think when my sister calls to ask about the highlight of the day, my response would be "I don't know. Staying alive crossing the street."
My guide says "America, here." Guessing that’s the queue for me to hop out, I second guess myself as the taxi driver doesn’t even see fit to stop. Scrambling out the door, I look around to see who saw me trip. Staring at the scenery reminds me that I am a tourist [in my own land]. A group of men yelling at each other nearby puts me on guard as I'm not sure what’s to happen of this 'blood pressure-raising' conversation. As my guide grabs my arm and directs me down the street, the sun touches my shoulder and whispers in my ear "this is Africa." Dust flying everywhere combines with pollution from the vehicles. Everyone here is darker than I am but I will give it some time. the smell of grilled plantains is hard to pick up through all the life I’m breathing in, but I’m a Chef... things like that can't hide from me.
A few minutes later I am introduced to a friend of a friend. He offers me assistance and I gladly accept. More men come from around the church building offering similar hands of service. I grow suspicious as the customs here are MUCH different from those in America. The wind takes the time to whisper in my ear "this is Africa." Tupac's phrase rings in my head and I quickly bob my head to the tune "Some say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice I say the darker the flesh, then the deeper the roots..." Speaking of Roots, I wonder if people here actually like that movie.
I regain my focus and describe to the men what I am here for and they all seem excitingly interested in my story. An hour or so later I leave there with another friend of a friend (of a friend) and she takes me to several more places. She is a God-sent angel. As the day progresses for me and the sun goes down I attend an interview and two meetings all with the purpose of finding me a job and place to rest my head for the up and coming months. All attempts are successful as I now sit in my own room on my own side of a house that I could not be more blessed to have. Dinner last night consisted of grilled fish and rice with a red pepper sauce, and pineapple juice. 100%, fresh pineapple juice! The family is so nice, it was unreal to begin. Really, 3 cold bottles of water in 1 hour? Who does that? As soon as that thought came across my mind, God took time from His evening to whisper in my ear “My Son, this… this is Africa.” Smiling I whisper “thanks father. By force, I have come to notice.”
Chef Belton shares his intimate thoughts and world experiences with his followers. These are the inspiration behind his culinary delights.