“You can’t get realer than real estate.”
– ‘What Color Is the Sacred?’ by Michael Taussig (2006), in Critical Inquiry, vol. 33, no. 1
I’ve been thinking about Ghana so much the past few days, in particular our childhood homes in Manet Cottage and Regimanuel Gray. Lately I’ve been watching a show on Channel 4 called ‘A Place in the Sun: Winter Sun’ with my mom, in which a real estate agent goes to exotic locations like Barbados and Antigua in the Caribbean or Spain to help find a holiday home for cash-loaded British nationals who are looking for a place “to get away in the winter” (and having experienced the beginning of winter here I can totally understand why).
The highlight of the shows is always when the camera takes us through a tour of the houses the clients can choose from, which is always an emotional moment for me. I look at the 1′ x 1′ plain white tiles on the floor, the rattan furniture with 70’s upholstery, 90’s-style curtains unimpressively hanging on the windows, the boxy TV in the living room, the white plainness of the bathroom, the fan lazily swirling above, the air conditioner, the minimal but functional kitchen, the indoor arches framing the entrance to the dining room, the outdoor porch perfect for enjoying the tropical sun when it’s not too hot outside, the green lawn with hibiscus and ixora in bloom, the gray driveway — and I cannot help but be transported back to the homes where I grew up.
In my boredom and nostalgia tonight I googled up Regimanuel Gray and found the exact spot on the map where our house was: 8, William Road, Regimanuel Gray, is the red spot in the center of this map below. I found Manet Cottage too, which must have been renamed Manet Court Estates, but unfortunately the streets are still not named. When we lived there, houses were only identified by numbers and alphabets (N1, N2, N3, and so forth would be in the same street; our house was N1, perhaps in honor of my name).
When I was young I never really remember roads and streets by their name — I just know them by landmarks preserved so well by my visual memory. For example, I could still trace our journey from Spintex Road to our school, which was apparently on Second Circular Road. Spintex Road, the Tetteh Quarshie Roundabout, and the airport are all still key features in my memory, but then when I look at the map it felt like my whole memory had to be restructured. Suddenly roads appear in my mind no longer as tarred and lined with pedestrians and yellow-brown painted buildings at the sides; they are now straight lines curving at 40 degrees at some point, and with names I never knew or couldn’t remember.
After more Googling and coming across this article, I found that Regimanuel Gray was such an impeccable neighborhood by Ghanaian standards at that time because this housing project, the biggest in Ghana at that time from what I heard, was a Ghanaian-American joint venture, with Emmanuel Botchwey and William Ohrt owning huge stakes in the development. (Random side note: Ghanaians seem to love the name Emmanuel for some mysterious reason.) Not only is Regimanuel Gray a gated community — which meant that residents did not have to deal with vendors and bustling pedestrian traffic outside their gates — with well-maintained tarred roads and green lawns, but today there is also a swimming pool (or perhaps an entire clubhouse) which never existed when we lived there. I remember they started a mysterious development project right at the end of our street, with rumors that it would be a swimming pool, but we left the country before the project actually came to a completion, unfortunately.
I tried to Google some pictures of Regimanuel Gray houses and found photos of a house from this residential area up for rent — and it was a Reggie Gray house alright, no doubt about it. That desert-brown paint, wooden garage doors, red terra cotta roof tiles, massive arch — our house, though a single-storey bungalow, is modeled similarly. In fact every house in the estate features all these. Photos below are from this page.
Something I find so hard to accept is not being able to express memories of my childhood homes into an existential, physical reality in the form of a photograph that I can hold in my hand and gaze at. Call me sentimental, but there is just something about Ghana that keeps calling me back to it, and I always listen to these haunting calls from my past because they have taken me places so far: I wanted to go back and live in Paris and now I have; I wanted to come back to Europe after that for graduate studies and now I have. I know Africa will be next in line for me.