Despite the awful state of my mind and body I find myself liking Kumasi. Instantly it feels completely different to Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso, and that's refreshing, even if the weather isn't; for the first time in ages the sky is cloudy, the air is humid, and I can feel the threat of a downpour in the air, even if the chances of it actually raining are pretty slim. After so long in the dry Sahel I've almost forgotten what moisture feels like, and here it is, dripping off me in bed; it isn't pleasant but it's different, and a change is as good as a rest.
The humidity also explains the amazing amount of greenery in Kumasi. Back in Tamale, the last major city I passed through on the way south, the feeling was still one of dry scrubland, but here in Kumasi I find myself looking out from the balcony of the Presbyterian Guesthouse over green grass, palm trees and lush, tropical growth. At last I've managed to escape the harshness of the desert for more genuinely tropical Africa, and it feels good.
To add to the tropical flavour, I drifted off to sleep on my first night in Ghana to the sound of a gospel choir singing in perfect harmony. It felt a little weird that it was 2am and the choir was still singing, but that's one thing about Ghana; the Christian church is everywhere and everything, in the same way that Allah is everywhere in the Muslim countries. You don't have the muezzin waking you up in the morning, you have the sounds of evangelical ministers proclaiming that the Lord cometh, and everywhere the shops and buses have Biblical names and inscriptions instead of Islamic ones.
Another difference between Kumasi and the countries of the Sahel is that Kumasi feels considerably better off. Ghana is a richer country than either Mali or Burkina Faso and it's noticeable: the streets are in much better condition, the sewers are covered more often than they're open, there's a lot less litter and everything just feels that much more civilised. It's especially odd because Ghana is a lot cheaper than the countries I've already visited; this is because the cedi – the currency of Ghana, whose name comes from sedee, the Akan word for cowrie shell, one of the original forms of currency in the area – has taken a real pounding on the exchange markets recently, bringing down prices for visitors and pushing up inflation for the locals. This is obviously not a good thing, but for the traveller it does mean things are more affordable, a pleasant surprise after the expensive CFA countries.
As for Kumasi itself, I only managed to visit the Military Museum, where I couldn't really concentrate on being a tourist; instead I came home early and sat recuperating in the wonderful wooden-balconied Presby. I managed a visit to an internet café, a trip to the pharmacist to stock up on the anti-malarial drug Doxycycline (which I am now taking instead of Lariam), and I made a few phone calls to sort out my plans for the next few days, but I didn't really explore properly; most of the time I was being ill in true West African style
I do remember one thing, though, and that's just how pleasant it is to be able to speak English to the locals. It transforms things, and although it means I can't feign a lack of language skills to get rid of the touts, it removes a layer of stress that's been with me since the start of my trip (my short break in the Gambia notwithstanding). The touts in Kumasi aren't as bad as they are in places like Mopti or Bamako, but there are still some annoying little buggers who insist on following me round while trying to foist ugly jewellery on me, and one of these neatly sums up my issues with the Francophone countries. I was standing in the queue for the cash machine at Barclays Bank, and a guy joined the queue behind me, waiting his turn. He struck up conversation in French, and conditioned by my time in the Sahel, I replied in French and discovered that he was from Goa in Mali. He seemed friendly enough, but once I'd used the cash machine he followed me from the bank without using it himself.
'Where are you going now?' he asked, in French.
'Why do you ask?' I replied.
'I'd like to help you,' he said.
'I'm fine, thanks, I'm just going to get some breakfast,' I replied.
'I can show you lots of good places,' he said, 'and then maybe I can show you my work, my friend.'
And then the penny dropped: he was a tout from bloody Mali, who just wanted to flog me something. I wasn't amused; I'd assumed he'd been in the queue for the cash machine to withdraw his money, not mine.
'Listen, I'm only going to say this once,' I said, in French. 'I've come to Ghana because I'm tired of speaking French, so from this moment on I'm only going to speak in English, and I'm going to ignore anything you say that's in French. And just for the record, I do not want to buy anything, I do not want a guide, and I don't need showing round. OK?'
Of course, this hasn't stopped him following me for the last few days, constantly trying to show me his jewellery and insisting on speaking in French, which I pretend not to understand. I've found out that a number of other tourists who are also staying at the Presby have been hassled by the same Malian, and he's driving them mad, hanging round the gates and being insistent to the point of rudeness. The fact that the most annoying person in Kumasi is from Mali and not Ghana demonstrates a fundamental difference between the two places; I'm sure Ghanaian touts are just as irritating, but something tells me the Francophone countries produce a different class of salesman to the Anglophone ones. I look forward to testing this theory, especially now I have enough French to tell them exactly how disinterested I am in cheap jewellery and guided tours. I just pity the poor sod who tries to sell me a trek to Dogon Country in Ghana; they'll rue the day.