I hadn’t thought I had adjusted; I thought I was still the spoiled American, frustrated with every aspect of Ghana. But I found the bar daunting and dizzying.  There were too many twinkling lights, too many bottles shelved against the mirrored wall, and it had been more than a year since I had been in an indoor space where people were allowed to smoke.  “What do you want to drink?” Patrice asked me.

It took me a minute.  “Gin and ginger ale,” I answered.  He had told me on the phone that the place was happenin’, or its French equivalent–I can’t remember what he said in French, but I understood it as “happenin'” at the time–but I seemed to have forgotten what that meant.

Patrice is a friend of my friend Martin; he and his co-worker Marianne have a job that provides an apartment, a driver, home internet access, long hours, and frequent meetings with important people.  The first time I met them, we had gone out to a pleasant, fairly casual outdoor restaurant with many other twentysomethings, mostly French, who work with businesses or large NGOs in Ghana.  I’d had a wonderful time, and had been eager to see them again.

The bar patrons varied in race, but it was more white people than I had seen in one place for quite some time.  The speaker boomed immediately above our table.  Patrice and Marianne introduced me to Simon, a man with heavy brows, muscular shoulders and a strong profile, who Patrice later told me was Brazilian; to Abdirahman, a Lebanese man who was moving to Accra to open a restaurant; and to Saleem, a quiet man (also Lebanese) with a calm air and slightly hunched posture.  As Patrice went to order our drinks I greeted Abdirahman.  He responded pleasantly, complaining that it took ten minutes to get your drink here.  “Here” sounded as if it meant “Ghana,” not this particular bar.  Patrice delivered my drink in plenty of time, and I thanked him.

I chatted a bit with Marianne and Simon, though he seemed reluctant to deviate his focus from her in the slightest.  She told him about what I was doing, and he nodded along.  He was tremendously attractive.  I would have guessed that all these men were in their early forties, which is not as far from my age as once it was.

When we had been there for about twenty minutes, a fat, gregarious white man named Robert joined our group.  Marianne informed me that he owned a pizza restaurant in the area.  He was locquacious, much more openly friendly than the others.   He had been born in Ghana, the child of Florentine industrialists, and left the family business to become a restauranteur.  He promised me a free pizza when I came to his restaurant.  I thanked him profusely.  He asked me about my work.  No one here had heard of my town of residence or of work, but I explained a bit of what I did.  “And what have you been eating?” he asked me.

“I eat local.”

His face creased with pity and concern.  “You mean, you’ve been having rice every night?”

I went outside for a breath of fresh air; the smoke was making me ill.  When I returned, Marianne invited me to the seat between herself and Simon, which did not seem to please him.  As she drifted off to the bathroom, I asked him how long he had been living in Ghana.  “Twelve and a half years,” he answered.

“And what do you do?”

“I run a company.  A cosmetics company.”

“Why did you decide to do that here?” I asked curiously.

“We know there’s a market for it here.”

I couldn’t argue with that, but something about the man was painfully abrasive.  He had clearly assessed me as a worthless object of observation and seemed to have little other use for women.  We stared in opposite directions for a while, and then the Ghanaian waitress delivered a round of shots Simon had ordered.  Saleem declined, and I attempted to do the same, but Simon kept up a steady stream of pressure that didn’t yield in the face of my stubborn, obnoxious answers.  I opted to drink the Kamikaze shot when Marianne returned, rather than prolong the discussion.  It wasn’t as strong as I thought.

Simon slid out of his seat to talk to Marianne, and Abdirahman joined me.  “So you’re opening a restaurant, right?” I asked.  “Where’s it going to be?”

“Do you know the Polo Club?”

“I think I went past it leaving the airport.”

“Right there,” he said, smiling.  He told me a few more details about the place.  I asked him where he lived, and he told me he had been staying, for the forty-eight days he’d been here, in a hotel down the street.  “But I just got an apartment in Labone.”

“Oh, I’ve been there!  It’s nice.”

“Yes.”  He nodded somewhat conspiratorially.  “Very white.”

Had I heard him right?  Uncertain, I asked him when the restaurant would open; two days before I plan to depart, as it turned out.  He said, with great and sincere excitement, that I should come to the opening.  I asked him why he had decided to start it here.

“I think it’s really needed,” he said.  “I mean, for the Europeans.  Forget the Ghanaians.  But the Europeans, and the Americans, they really need this.  You should come to the opening.  It’s going to be fantastic.”

I raised my eyebrows.  “Would it be all right if I bring a Ghanaian?”

My tone was lost on him.  “Sure, the rich Ghanaians are fine.”

I had little to say after that, so I went to the bathroom again.  I pee frequently under normal circumstances, all the more so under the influence, but tonight I also felt the need for brief moments of privacy in the stall.  When I returned to the table, a round of sickly green shots peppered the table.  They had been waiting for me.  I sniffed at the shot, which smelled strongly of licorice.  “No thanks,” I said.  I have nothing against absinthe; there are circumstances under which I’d try it happily.  But absinthe with dickwads seemed supremely unwise.  Marianne, too, was reluctant.  Simon ceased to pressure me after only a couple of minutes; he kept at Marianne until she choked down the entire shot.  According to Patrice, her pupils changed size immediately.  I went to the bathroom again.  When I returned, Simon was complaining about Marianne’s distance from him.  “You see,” he said, “she has had absinthe, and now she is standing not closer to me, but further away from me!”

I said something along the lines of, “Sucks to be you.”

I chatted with Patrice for a while, feeling slightly guilty about my negativity.  It was just a bar, after all.  We’d be here, then I’d go back to the apartment he and Marianne shared, one with air-conditioning and internet access, and next time I would meet his more generous-spirited friends.  He spotted another acquaintance, who came over to talk to him.  I touched Saleem’s shoulder to get his attention; perhaps the man who had been quiet and didn’t drink was worth talking to.  He smiled and crossed to the table beside me.  “So do you not drink because of religion, or lack of interest?” I asked.

“Both,” he anwered.  He put his foot up on the stool in front of me, blocking my exit to the rest of the room.  He ran a construction company, he said.  I explained how I knew Patrice and Marianne.  When he learned I spoke French, we switched to French, but with the din in the bar I had a hard time understanding him.  He asked me how I found Ghana.  I was tired of people, Ghanaians or foreigners, asking me that.

“It’s difficult,” I said carefully.  “It’s interesting.”  Simon was dancing very close to Marianne, and she allowed it.  I stifled the urge to kick Saleem’s leg, as he leaned into my ear to answer.

“For me,” he said in French, “the problem is that the people here are extremely stupid.  They can’t follow instructions.”

He couldn’t see my facial expression, so I have no idea how it looked.  “That’s not a problem for me.”

He shook his head.  “For me, it is the only problem.”

The rest of the conversation was empty, and when Patrice and Marianne invited me to continue to a nightclub with Abdirahman, Simon, and two Brazilian friends who had joined him, I realized I had to go home.  I expressed my reservations to Patrice, focusing them on Simon rather than the group at large.  He asked me to text him when I got home.  No one seemed terribly disappointed to lose me.  I hadn’t been terribly good company.

I had been looking forward to the night away from my routine, the night of Western luxury.  I came close to tears several times in the taxi home, fearing the places where I secretly shared opinions with these men, angry and disturbed that they had comfortably shared these thoughts with me as if there was nothing wrong with them, realizing that The Corporationis right: even if Abdirahman’s perspective made business sense, prioritizing the profit margin over all other human interests is sociopathy.  I didn’t think that colonialist attitude died with independence, exactly, but perhaps with the first generation of CIA-backed dictators.  Realizing that a better woman than I, a woman with less social anxiety and a less abrasive personality, might, in fact, be able to make headway with such people over time.  Realizing that logically, whatever I will become, I will never be a better woman than I.

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