No Kissing No Hugging

In Accra, The Art of Travel Spring 2015, Authenticity by Rachel2 Comments

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.

Comments

  1. Hi Rachel!

    I was really curious to read one of the Accra pieces about this topic because all of your experiences would be VASTLY different from a lot of other study abroad experiences. For me, studying in a place like London (an English-speaking metropolitan international capital like New York City) has allowed me to feel more like a local more quickly than students feel in Paris or Prague or, in your case, Accra. It’s good that you’re aware that, due to the Ghanian society, you won’t be able to achieve “local” status- more importantly, you understand and recognize what exactly is a “tourist trap.” Even now here in London, I still like to do some of those more touristy things (my roommate and I, for instance, are big history nerds and have season passes to the royal palaces), but it’s all about balance. And I definitely think that you’re achieving that. Enjoy the rest of your time in Accra!

  2. Hi Rachel! I have never visited a country where I so obviously stick out as a foreigner, but I have always wondered what it would be like. I definitely did not fit in when I studied in Paris, but it was not so obvious because I was coming from one Western country to another. I am currently in Sydney where I feel more at home than in New York because of the way I look, and while it has been comfortable, there is an enriching experience that comes from encountering your cultural opposite. I sensed the frustration in your post of wanting to see the real Accra, to be as far from a tourist as possible, but the impossibility in achieving that. I have always dreaded the touristy aspects of Sydney, but I am excited to dive in after reading your post. You have made me realize that there are two sides to every city, the local and the touristy side, and that both are authentic. Your appearance likely keeps you from seeing both sides completely, but the acknowledgement of these two sides will make every city that much more interesting.

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