For an unforgettable insight into how much of Ghana lives, take Charles Sablah's ‘enlightened’ guided tour of Nima – Accra's poorest disctrict – and the Anani International Memorial School...
With a vociferous medley of hooting traffic, cranked-up music and full-throttle conversation from the main drag bouncing off the closely-packed walls, Charles Sablah leads us further into Nima's maze of snaking backstreets. Wherever building ends, life fills in, from communal prayer in a shaded chamber to seamstresses claiming alleyway corners with their whirring machines. This intense cultural melting pot is largely considered Accra's most impoverished area, where migrants from northern Ghana and beyond have settled en masse. Nima's densely populated haphazard landscape is typically untrodden by Accra's overseas visitors. But a young man from the neighbourhood is offering a tour through a diverse part of the city.
Our venture through winding alleyways takes us to the local Anani International Memorial School, a calm and supportive educational haven for nearly 100 of Nima's young residents. Here, children of all ages learn French, Science, Maths and English from a team of dedicated teachers that at times the school struggles to pay at all. The headmaster, Kofi Anane (not that Kofi Anane...), was once himself a pupil here, and took over the project from his late father.
'We do our very best to not let the poverty outside these walls stop us from providing our children with an education,' he told us. 'Pupils from here have gone on to be bank managers, office workers, even working for the government. But for the poorest it is hard, because to have any chance they need to finish their education. If they can't get the right start none of the rest can be possible.'
One of the older boys beats a djembe signalling break time, and the playground erupts into a clamour of singing, dancing and intricate clapping games.
After saying our goodbyes, a short walk takes us to the fringes of the ramshackle market that seems to engulf most of the neighbourhood. From the mighty cuts filling the central meat market to the piles of tiny dried silver fishes, and barrel after barrel of okra and chillies, what is here is here in abundance. As are electrical goods, colourful pots, fabrics, kitchen utensils and mounds of medicinal herbs and ingredients, such as dried chameleons, said to offer great medicinal benefits when ground down (although exactly what benefits remains a little unclear).
Not all the market ladies are enamoured by foreign visitors and it is good to purchase a couple of things. But Charles peacefully handles any objections. With his infectious smile and boundless sincerity, he is a reliable and safe guide, and you leave feeling someone has given you privileged insight.
Take the tour For a tour of Nima, including Anani International Memorial School, contact Charles Sablah. Charles charges GH¢5 per hour per person, and offers a special price for groups.