December 31, 2019 — The harmattan’s dusty and dry sting is felt by Accra’s dark skies. The stars, not showing up in their usual numbers, must have received the memo. Below, though, Ghanaians have turned up alright.
And why not?
It’s ’31st Night’: that night of the year when everyone tries to pack in enough activity just before the annual calendar flips. Accra — like most cities around the world — is at its busiest, but the people here aren’t excited merely to watch the clock wind down, as 31st Night often finds Ghanaians in the mood for much more.
Thirty-eight ’31sts’ ago, for instance, one light-skinned and bearded flight lieutenant even found the occasion opportune to stage a coup d’etat which altered the course of Ghanaian history forever. And while recent 31st Nights haven’t been characterized by such aggression, there is inspiration for great action.
More than anything, the night finds Accra at its ‘holiest’. On the well-constructed George Walker Bush Highway, I’m stuck in a trotro — and in traffic. Most of the vehicles you’d find on other major roads are, too, mainly headed for church: to thank God for overlooking their sins of the concluding year and to plead with him to overlook the sins planned for the incoming year past mercies and to request new ones. There is no shortage of religious events to attend, really. Throughout the city, on billboards large and small, they are advertised rather colourfully: ‘Cross-over’, ‘Walk-over’, ‘Leap-over’, ‘Jump-over’, etc — take your pick.
“Move over,” a policeman beckons to a cabbie just ahead of us.
For drivers in the public transport business, it’s a field day. They could work deeper into the night than usual, fishing out passengers scrambling to and from church. From the lively interaction between this trotro’s driver and his conductor, it’s obvious they intend to make the most of the situation.
“Still, when it’s almost midnight, just enter the nearest place of worship and commit your life in the coming year to Christ,” one woman enjoins the pair, “for we battle not with flesh and blood.”
The conductor, a witty type, quickly quotes another popular portion of scripture in response: “Oh we’d have it together — just the two of us — in the bus, for where two or three are gathered . . .”
In a country where godliness is held in such high esteem — in theory, at least — it’s indeed inconceivable to spend the last night of the year anywhere but in divine presence . . . or so I think, until I get to my suburb, Lapaz. There, on one particularly busy street where vice and virtue thrive side-by-side, sultrily dressed ladies of the night report for duty; patiently and brazenly, they wait in front of a hotel that stands adjacent to a massive edifice where a congregation warms up for the vigil. Soon, when it’s dark enough, their patrons would come around to record their final sins of the year. At a spot nearby, one man pipes down shisha as another puffs out smoke from a joint of [what I presume] is cannabis.
Talk of ending the year on a ‘high’ . . .
Ultimately, though, churches win big. If it’s the eve of a new millennium, new century, or new decade — as the latest is — a full house is more than assured: all it takes is a smart play on the words and numbers involved, as well as some good publicity, and . . . BOOM!
And on 31st Night, booms fill the air, along with colourful fireworks, from the pyrotechnics that welcomes the new year in much the same manner as you’d see elsewhere. The majority, though, are crossing over, walking over, jumping over, leaping over, sleeping over — even bending over.
I’m home now and turning in, just content with spending 31st Night where I always have.