– All the Small Things, Blink 182
Mardi, 18 janvier 2012:
It was the end of April in the year 1999, if I recall correctly. That was when our entire family was uprooted once again — the first time had been to Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1994 — from our temporary home in Subang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur to be resettled in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, in West Africa. The contract had b een signed, the container had been shipped off, and it was decided that we were to spend the next three years of our lives literally on the other side of the globe.
And so at the end of April 1999, our family left on a plane from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, with ten baggages in tow, for London Heathrow. We were to have a brief stopover in London before taking a British Airways flight to Accra’s Kotoka International Airport. London experienced at the tender brief of age of eight was still something that my young self could never fully grasp; there were many pleasant things to be remembered that my young memory simply could not withhold, but that is perhaps a story for another time.
Upon arriving in Accra, I remember our whole family being greeted by our Malaysian hosts in one of the houses in a residential area known as Manet Cottage — it turned out that these families were to be our future neighbors, and their children were to become some of my childhood friends that I would go to school with every morning in the same van driven by Abu. At this gathering, I recall snippets of conversations my mother had with the other Malaysian ladies. One of the things they talked about was the local currency used in Ghana, known as ‘Cedis’, and what the exchange rate was with the Malaysian Ringgit. When I first heard the name of the local currency, I remember the word ‘CD’s’ floating around in my mind unsettlingly, and it was when I finally saw how the word was properly spelled that my lightbulb moment finally came.
We didn’t move immediately move into our house after our arrival; due to some complications, we stayed for a few days first in the Paloma Hotel. For the rest of our stay in Accra, whenever we’d drive past the hotel, my brothers and I would scream in the car, “That’s the hotel we stayed in!” We celebrated my brother’s birthday on May 2nd that year at the hotel. Chocolate was such a luxury and a rarity at this time, reserved only for special occasions such as this, that each of us only got half of a Twix bar on this very day.
Innocent as we were at that age, we accepted it gratefully, but today, I must confess, I still go crazy whenever I see cheap Twix bars while grocery-shopping in Woolworths. It is as if I am still attempting to fill the half-empty Twix packaging that I got on that day, and make it whole again somehow. Lately however, I am glad to announce that this Twix obsession of mine has subsided, and that I haven’t touched a Twix bar since I was in Barcelona in June of this year. (This was after I saw a half-dozen packet of Twix bars sold for two Euros when I went shopping at my neighborhood’s Franprix, and found that it was virtually impossible to finish them within such a short period of time, so I took them with me when we went traveling.)
At the Paloma Hotel, my brothers and I watched a lot of cartoon during the day; I suppose this was our way of calming our nerves after going through such a drastic relocation. We ordered room service while my father was away at the office; we had fried rice — with prawns — very frequently, and we’d get an interesting mix of fruit salad for one of our meals (possibly for breakfast) which included kiwi. I suppose till today the kiwi fruit holds pleasant memories, and I feel fortunate to live in a country where kiwi is such an accessible fruit. Now I always gobble down two or three at a time, never less.
The first house that we moved into in Accra was in the afore-mentioned residential area of Manet Cottage. As I type this, I could still recall where our house was situated in relation to the other Malaysian families’ houses. The residential area was organized according to street names that actually use the alphabets in lieu of actual street names. In fact, I doubt street names actually existed, for every house in our street, for example, began with the alphabet ‘N’. Since our house was the first to be encountered in the street, it was N1, and the next one was presumably N2, and the next, N3, and so on and so forth… One of my closest friends’ house, if I remember correctly, was M5, situated in the street just before ours.
N1 was a newly-constructed, very pink house with a wooden garage door painted brown. There was a small brown-tiled porch at the front, and an enormous water tank situated high up on a tower at the back of the house. Oh, I could remember the house so clearly now, and I could still remember the nightmare I had involving zombies I got one night when we lived here. It was a three-bedroom house, with just enough space for all six of us. All three of my brothers stayed in the biggest room just across the hallway from mine, whereas our maid, Maryam, would sleep with me in my room.
This house was where my brother and I lived as children; this was pre-Egypt, so all of us still went to the same school, took the same van every morning (if the van was late, nearly all Malaysian students were would be late for class), had lunch together when we got back, and played computer games together. I remember us watching Scooby Doo, Ed, Edd and Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog (an extremely macabre cartoon that I’ve never been particularly fond of), and Dexter’s Laboratory on Cartoon Network after coming home from school, and having asam pedas for lunch cooked by our Ghanaian maid, Maryam.
This was also the time when we started playing Heroes of Might and Magic, Odyssey, and Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun. Playing Heroes at this age was what led me to see the Stonehenge this year, because there were druids in the game who lived in the Stonehenge, so before I crossed the English Channel, I made up my mind to investigate myself if the mysterious Stonehenge truly existed, and to see it with my own eyes. The real thing certainly did not disappoint.
In the mornings, my mother would wake us up and prepare breakfast as well as pack our lunch. Extremely special lunches would consist of sausages and those Lexus vegetable crackers my mother brought in the container all the way from Malaysia. On more normal days, we would get fried rice with anchovies (not really my favorite, and being such a ridiculously picky eater, I was having enough trouble gobbling food down as it is).
Abu, the van driver, would come pick us up at our house and we’d do the usual rounds, picking the other kids too. I suppose the advantage of living bunched together in the same residential area certainly was very effective in some ways — sending kids to school certainly wouldn’t be an issue anymore. The van itself is an object of interesting discussions between my brothers and I to this very day. ‘Van Abu’ (‘Abu’s Van’) — as we always called it — was silver and ancient. Every morning we’d get on the van praying that a) there wouldn’t be a traffic jam, and b) that the van would not break down in the middle of the road. And both certainly did occur quite frequently.
To get from Manet Cottage to anywhere else in Accra, we would have to leave the residential area and take the long, winding Spintex Road, which eventually leads to the Tetequashie Roundabout. From this point on, the road appears rather vague in my memory, but I remember certain important landmarks, such as the Shangri-La Hotel, Kotoka International Airport, the place where my mother ordered solid-wood furniture with African motif with a Ghanaian named Emanuel (I have been here with my mother on hot afternoons, overlooking the progress of furniture my mother ordered), and the pottery place next to it at the traffic light (I always look at the rows of clay pots and vases of various sizes during red lights and mentally pick out the ones that were most beautiful in my opinion). We also pass by local schools, and I could recall the students wearing the yellow and brown uniform, extremely different from our green-and-white striped dresses.
Once, I remember Van Abu breaking down on one of the main roads in Accra, right opposite the Shangri-La Hotel.