by Brian Kerstetter
SWIMMING WITH KOFI IN AFRICA
In a previous trip to Accra, the capital of Ghana, O. had discovered a mountain of trash, literally a “mountain” composed of the city’s garbage, that slogged through the city like a migrating black iceberg. Homeless kids lived on this moving mountain and scavenged for food. Being a hopeless romantic, O. wanted to return to Ghana to film a scene for Home 2 on this black mountain.
We flew from New York to Accra and took a taxi to the Labadi Beach Hotel, a 5-star resort on the beach that caters to businessmen, politicians, and United Nations officials. The hotel was protected by guards at the front entrance and a sentry at the back. Next to the outdoor lounge and restaurant sparkled the most luxurious swimming pool on two levels, connected by a cascading waterfall. A fountain in the center of the pool jetted glistening cobalt beads high into the air. Each evening, after filming, O. and I would dive in, float on our backs, and gaze up at the African sky.
On our third day we returned to the hotel sunburned and in a prickly mood after a sweltering afternoon in the dusty markets. O. dumped the film equipment on the floor of our room and, noticing the blinking red light on the battery pack, asked me the size of my brain because I’d forgotten to turn off my microphone and drained the battery. I walked over, picked up the battery, looked at it, and replied that the microphone may be dead but it would still fit up his ass.
We changed into our bathing suits and walked through the lobby to the pool. We noticed groups of African women in red and yellow dresses and men in dark suits assembled in the lounge. The outside bar was also buzzing with VIPs and sweaty dignitaries in sunglasses who didn’t seem to be guests of the hotel.
“What’s this?” O. asked the porter.
“Kofi’s coming! Kofi’s coming!” the porter whispered, referring to the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Having spent the day juggling tomatoes, running through markets with a branch of bananas swung over my shoulder, and being mauled by a pack of homeless kids in the African sun, my only interest in the Secretary General was if he were smiling at me in his bathing suit from the pool. O. tossed his towel over a lounge chair, climbed onto the boulders that created the waterfall and dove into the deep end, just above the NO DIVING sign. I walked to the edge of the water, leaned forward, and like a cadaver, let my body collapse into the cool ripples.
The party developed an increasing air of exclusivity. VIPs nibbled appetizers at the edge of the pool while security guards observed from the perimeter. O. and I were the only ones in the pool; we swam discreetly, almost in a serious manner, for fear they would exile us to our room when Kofi arrived.
The underwater lights flooded the pool in phosphorescence, giving the impression we were swimming in the heart of the party. Weary from doing laps, O. felt we should play a more active role in the evening’s entertainment. This meant an improvised routine of synchronized swimming. We paddled into the deep end. O. flipped onto his back, kicked up his legs and spun his arms in the air. I did the same next to him. He dove under water, thrust his legs and feet into the air, kicking them back and forth like a ballerina dancer. I followed suit. O. came to the surface and transitioned into circular dog paddling. I dog paddled in a circle next to him. As a finale, we swam back and forth on our backs, spitting water out of our mouths like miniature fountains. Only at the conclusion did we realize that our synchronized maneuvers had been sloshing water onto the crowd, sending those closest to the pool retreating to the buffet.