Kwame Mainu, a young engineer employed by the Technology Consultancy Centre (TCC) of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana, has been assigned temporarily to assist a project at Tamale in the Northern Region. The time is May 1982 and Ghana is enduring a period of exceptional economic hardship under the government of the People’s National Defence Council (PNDC) led by Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings. Food and fuel are scarce, electricity and water supplies are intermittent and all imported goods are virtually unobtainable. The situation is worst in the north. Kwame has been wondering how he can escape from Ghana to greener pastures. Then he meets Sally, a British volunteer also working for the project in Tamale.
One day, after the close of work, Sally asked Kwame if he would like to go with her to buy Guinea fowl for their supper. They walked through the town in the brief half-light of dusk to the central market where several women were roasting portions of Guinea fowl for sale to passers-by. They bought three portions, and some roast plantain to take back to share with Frank, the project manager.
It was now dark and, as usual in Tamale at this time, the power was off, so there were no streetlights. Under these conditions, pedestrians took advantage of the headlights of passing vehicles to light their way. A continual stream of passing traffic can maintain almost constant illumination and make the sidewalks relatively safe. Unfortunately, fuel was in short supply and most vehicles were parked in long queues at the filling stations, waiting for a tanker to arrive from the south. So the passing traffic was intermittent, bringing rare swathes of light followed by long intervals of blackness. The transit of each vehicle allowed a safe path to be gauged over only the next few metres. It was essential to see the path ahead because all pavements were badly broken and some roads had no pavements. Most road edges had deep storm drains that could easily turn a missed step into a broken leg. Walking in the roadway exposed pedestrians to the dual hazards of deep potholes and passing vehicles, including bicycles and even some cars with no lights. Drivers and riders tried to weave a path between the potholes and this led to vehicles swerving without warning. The walk home promised to be less than straightforward.
Frank had lent them his torch but it needed fresh batteries. They enquired in the market at several kiosks selling electrical goods but could find no batteries to buy. So they set out for home in some trepidation. Waiting for each vehicle to pass, they were able to move forward a few metres at a time. It helped their progress that the bad roads slowed the traffic and extended the periods of illumination. When they came to a smoother stretch they could risk walking on further in the darkness with Kwame walking carefully ahead and warning of any obstacles. At one point they were able to cut across an open expanse of grass, trying to keep to the well-trodden path and hoping that no poisonous snakes were lurking nearby. Kwame knew all about night adders that didn’t get out of your way. He didn’t want Sally to learn about them the hard way. Kwame felt responsible for the safety of this frail stranger in his land and was determined to get her home safely. He wondered if she had anticipated this hazardous return when she proposed the expedition. After all, he reasoned, this was almost certainly not the first time she had fetched Frank’s supper.
Although nothing more intimate occurred on the way home than catching Sally once or twice when she stumbled, Kwame felt that the shared experience had created a bond between them. It was then that he realised that Sally might provide the escape route he was seeking. He decided that on his return to Kumasi he would ask for a permanent transfer to Tamale.