Long Pants Under a Hot Sun

A novel about Africa, drinking and the meaning of life

Archive for the month “September, 2012”

Under the Great Blue Arch

In this chapter, Dublin hitchhikes to Ghana with the Marines to find his friend.

Looking back on the road to Accra


Under the Great Blue Arch

Dublin trotted down the hallway of his house to answer the door. On the other side, Jared the Marine stood with his back to the house, his hands in his pockets. Dublin showed him inside, and the two of them carried Dublin’s bags to the Chevy Suburban growling in the street.

“I haven’t been in this one before,” Dublin said, pulling the back door shut behind him.

“Hell no you haven’t! The boss is out of the country, so we get the bulletproof.”

“Really?” Dublin looked around the truck in fascination, as if he could see the difference in the steel.

“Yep. Four days. That’s why we’re heading to Accra. Get a little nightlife in, some nice beaches, and all the women we can fit in the hotel room. Do you need to stay with us or what?”

“No, probably not. I hope not. I’m trying to find my friend at the university. Hopefully I can stay in his dorm.”

“Well, you’re welcome to. If you don’t mind a bunch of drunks trying to get women naked and gambling all night long.”

“No, I don’t.”

After Curran hadn’t shown up a couple days before, Dublin had decided to go look for him. The Marines mentioned their vacation and enthusiastically invited him along.

He hadn’t gotten very far with the meaning of life, but he was making friends.

That’s a journey.

Palms waved hello as the truck made good speed down the highway. The embassy driver, Matthew, drove as fast as he dared over and around potholes and road kill. Dublin craved the winds of the ocean around his head, but the windows wouldn’t roll down. Jared forbid anyone to run the air conditioning because he didn’t want to stop for gas. The others debated hotly about the effects of air conditioning on gas mileage.

On the road to Accra, Jerry Rawlings’ government had just finished construction on a highway overpass. Citizens saw it as a symbol of Ghana’s success, much to the annoyance of Eyadema. There was talk of closing the border, an effort to shut out not only the Togolese rebels that sought amnesty in Ghana in election off years, but to shut out Ghana’s culture from Togo. The reality of Ghana’s influence on dissension against its neighbor was undoubtedly exaggerated, but the tension was there. Dublin had stuck his fingers into the bullet holes in the side of his house. That was proof enough.

Dublin was facing backwards. He had a unique vantage point to watch boys filling potholes and shepherds ushering their stock along the side of the road. Just outside the city limits, Dublin watched with fascination as first one, and then dozens of bonfires plummeted into view. They burned darkly, unattended. He felt like he was on the approach to a post-apocalyptic city, a forgotten reporter for a war that raged on only within its own waste. He took notes that would never be read.

Matthew turned them north, skirting the city on a curved bypass highway that led to the University of Legon. Again Dublin wished for open windows as the smells of soldiers and heat grew more dense in the truck. He tried to pass the time by wondering if everything would work out the way he hoped, that he would be able to find Curran at home and be welcome. He really didn’t want to stay with the others at the hotel. The next few days could either be life-changing or really boring. No matter how much energy the Marines poured into their cocktails and dancing and shouting, it never infected him. It was backdrop, mediocrity. Bullshit. Not for him.

They turned onto the campus. Legon was an oasis, a brochure from America. There were trees, real hardwoods. And grass! Green grass that looked like it was watered! Dublin put his face to the glass. Students walked next to each other with backpacks and jeans and baseball caps. The buildings were named and kept up. And there, to his right, Dublin saw something that nearly put a tear in his eye. It was a bell tower, grand and bricked in red, with a gleaming spire upon the roof. Just as it began to pass behind them, the bell began to sway and peal, its vibrations felt in the glass upon which Dublin’s head rested.

“Where do you want to be dropped off?” Matthew asked him. The truck idled at a roundabout.

“Well, I don’t know. I can’t remember the name of the dorm. I guess at the next building, and I’ll ask around for him.”

“This building here?”

“Sure.”

Matthew put on the brake. Jared let him out and handed him his bag. “Just grab a taxi and head down to the hotel if you can’t find him. You can stay with one of us. You remember what it’s called?” Dublin nodded. “Alright. If we don’t see you, have fun. Movie next Friday night, OK?” Dublin nodded again. “OK. Be good.” Jared crawled back into the truck and waved to Dublin, who felt like he was being dropped off at school by his father.

All around Dublin, hundreds of students walked the campus, the green grass under their feet and the blue sky above them giving him pause. The bell in the tower echoed off the buildings. He suddenly felt more alone than he ever had in Africa.

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Found

I was looking through old things recently and found my Student ID card from the university in Togo.

My 1997 Student ID card from Togo

Yes, that’s the original paper clip. It reminds me of the opposing forces at work in African culture: the emphasis on official business and regulations (the need to have an ID) and the casual approach to life (attaching a photo to an ID with a paper clip). I don’t think I ever had to show it to anyone.

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