In general, when I am in a new city, I try really hard to torpedo myself into it’s authentic back region. As long as I do my research, spend my first few days/weeks making mistakes, seeing what the locals wear and asking them where to go, I think it is relatively easy to find the authenticity of a place. I am not interested in the façade of a city’s touristic image, because, as MacCannell describes Goffman’s theory in Staged Authenticity, “sustaining a firm sense of social reality requires some mystification” aka a “false reality” (591).
That being said, when I came to Accra, it took me much longer to even get a close encounter near the back regions. It took me a very long time to realize that, “Stage 6: Goffman’s back region; the kind of social space that motivates touristic consciousness” (598), will probably never be attainable here. There are just too many ways in which I stick out as a tourist, an outsider. I was feeling cheated knowing that the majority of places I go to were ‘tourist traps’.
There was one night when I came close to the back region of the Ghanaian nightlife; probably the closest I’ll ever get. I went with two other students to go hang out with our newfound Guinean friends. We were very excited that we had finally made friends with the locals who actually just wanted friendship; nothing more. They told us to meet them at a club called Vienna, which we had never heard of. As we drove 30 minutes out of the city center and pulled up to a rather dark building, I read the colossal banner above the club entrance. “EBOLA IS REAL: NO KISSING NO HUGGING WASHING HANDS”. Below the banner I saw a line of prostitutes dressed up in sailor outfits. I was ecstatic to finally experience a real night in Accra. However, walking into the club, I noticed that most of the eyes glance our way immediately, even if just for a fleeting moment. The bartender had handed me a clean glass and opened my beer for me, while he merely shoved the bottles at the other regular patrons. I will never be able to escape Accra’s projection of it’s front regions. It’s as if I transform the back regions into the front regions just by my presence as an incredibly obvious tourist.
Now, I have reached the half-way point of my semester in Ghana. And it’s taken me this long to realize that reaching “Stage 6” will never become a reality. This realization has allowed me to enjoy most touristy, westernized places in Accra. One of the most relaxing days I had here was in an old colonial house converted into a french restaurant/lounge. I ordered a chocolate cake and a large Evian, and tanned by the pool for five hours while soundtracks from Hotel Costes played in the background. I didn’t care that this place was designed specifically for westerners such as myself. If I can’t get into the back regions of Accra, I at least want to go to the touristy places that don’t pretend to be something they are not.