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While wandering around town on the afternoon before New Year's Eve, Lukas and I decided to stop off at Kojo's place for a Coke and a laze in the shade. What I hadn't realised was that Kojo's shop doesn't just sell the usual range of corner-shop goodies, like soap powder and cold Cokes; in fact the biggest bit of Kojo's business comes from selling marijuana to the extended Rastafarian family around Kokrobite, and judging by the number of people we saw floating through his place on New Year's Eve, stocking up with herbal essence makes for good business.
Tucked away behind a useful camouflage of palm trees some distance from the main road, we reached Kojo's place only to find that it was deserted apart from the loud music blaring out from the obligatory hi-fi. At first it appeared that Kojo might not be in, until someone appeared and signalled that Kojo was 'in the bushes', pointing to a path beside the house; and sure enough, down the end of the path was a shady hollow, and there was Kojo, sitting on a bench, beavering away. It appeared we'd arrived just as he was preparing a new batch of grass for sale, ready for the rush of festive clients.
Kojo's bush den is nothing more than a path that crosses a river bed, creating a natural hollow that's utterly invisible from outside. This is a good thing, as plonked in front of Kojo as he sat straddling one end of a wooden bench were two large pieces of brown paper, each home to a huge cone-shaped pile of grass some 25cm across at the base. My jaw dropped; I'd never seen so much marijuana in one place before, but Kojo sat there as if it was the most natural thing in the world to be happily preparing the new batch for sale, which of course, for him, it was.
We ordered a Coke and sat down, happy to watch proceedings; we weren't going anywhere, and Kojo's hollow was nice and shady, but equally fascinating was Kojo's preparation routine. The piles of grass were pretty roughly chopped up, not finely enough to be sold, so Kojo would grab a fistful of the pungent herb, roll it into a tight sausage shape, and holding it in his left hand he'd snip the exposed end with scissors, chopping the sausage into finely cut grass. He'd repeat this four or five times until he had a pile of decent saleable herb, and then the packing would begin.
Grass in Kokrobite is sold in little packets, each designed to be enough for one joint (well, a Rasta-standard pure grass joint anyway; the non-Rastas whom I talked to said that a normal wrap is easily enough for two European-strength joints). Kojo sat there packing the grass into 1000 cedi packs (about 7.5p), taking a very generous pinch of grass and placing it on a cigarette paper on top of a square of brown paper; he'd then start as if to roll a joint, but would pinch the ends, fold them together and twist them, creating a one-joint pack that comes in its own cigarette paper for instant rolling satisfaction. For people who roll pure grass joints, it's a perfectly simple and very cheap way to buy your weed, which could explain why so many people in Kokrobite do it.
Come and Go
As we sat there watching Kojo chopping up his wares, pausing only to pull out the seeds, which he popped into his mouth and chomped with a loud crunching sound, life in the den started to take off. Despite being nothing more than a path through a river bed, Kojo's place is a busy little crossroads, and as the afternoon drifted along, the number of people who popped in to buy packets of grass or smoke a joint was staggering. At one point Lukas caught my eye and commented on how busy it was; I looked around and there must have been ten people sitting round, rolling, smoking or just shooting the breeze.
It was fascinating. As I sat there in the background, pulling on my Coke and settling in, conversation flowed around me, flitting between Ghanaian English and the local language to such an extent that I often couldn't tell which language was being used; the Ghanaian accent can be ferociously hard to understand and the local languages often incorporate a lot of English words (particularly the numbers), so you can find yourself gently bubbling along with someone else's conversation, only picking up the odd word, before it dawns on you that someone's just asked you a question in English.
'Pardon?' I said to the man with the white beard who'd arrived a few minutes earlier, and who'd bought one of Kojo's 1000 cedi packets, rolled it up straight away and lit it in a cloud of acrid smoke.
'Where are you from?' he repeated.
'England,' I said. 'London.'
'Ah England, that is good,' he said. 'You are most welcome to Ghana.'
'Thanks,' I said. 'It is a lovely place.'
'Yah, it is good that you come to see Africa,' he said. 'We have many English visitors here, and lots from Europe, and it is good that you come to see how we live in Africa.'
'It is not like the Arabs,' piped up one of the others in the den, a young Rasta who was, against all the odds, managing to balance himself on the balls of his feet despite the effects of the huge joint he'd just put out.
'The Arabs?' I said.
'Yeah, the Arabs,' he continued. 'When you crash your car, the Arabs they cry for the car, not for you. It is not good.'
'It is true,' said the older man. 'Arabs they come here and they stay in the Novotel and get into air-conditioned cars, and they never come round to places like this. They never see how we really live. People who visit Africa to see how we really live are very welcome; it is great to see you here.'
'And it's great to be here,' I said, meaning it. Kojo's den might have been one of the dodgier parts of town, but there's no doubt that everyone who floated into the river bed was peaceful, friendly and ridiculously chilled out. Of course, a lot of that was down to the quality of Kojo's wares, but as a place to hang out, chatting to the locals as 2002 packed up its bags and headed for the door, it was hard to beat.
It also helped explain the ponderous nature of the inhabitants of Kokrobite; 'just in from the mountains', Kojo's latest stash would be gone before too long, and the chopping and packaging process would have to start all over again. Business is good, when you're the grass man in a Rastafarian village by the sea...