Larry Grobel remembers Atar (Ghana)


When I taught at the Institute of Journalism in Accra, Ghana (1968-71), I lived on the top floor of a duplex that came with an extra room behind the house. The room was there if I wanted a houseboy. I didn’t want a houseboy, but when my language teacher came to visit, he explained that he knew many young men who needed housing, and so I agreed to give the room to someone he knew and trusted.

Atar at 18

That is how Atar entered my life.

Over the next three years, Atar and I became close. I visited his village, traveled with him to schools for the blind and the deaf, went to some historical landmarks, and to a fetish ceremony. He taught me how to play board and card games. He shared his life stories with me.

When I had completed my Peace Corps service I arranged with my parents and my former high school for him to live with my parents on Long Island and go to my old school once we could arrange for his passport and visa. It took a year of monthly visits to the passport office to get him a passport, but the U.S. Embassy rejected his visa application, and he never got to go to the U.S.

I was angry, but Atar was philosophical. “You see this box you got sent you?” he said. “It came from the U.S. I ask myself, am I not better than this box? I, too, will one day make it there.” After I left, he wanted to become a videographer and I sent him a video camera.

He wasn’t much of a letter writer, but I managed to keep in touch with him through a mutual friend. A half century later, I discovered a manuscript I had written about my time in Ghana, and much of it was about Atar. I edited it and dedicated it to him. The title, Turquoise, comes from something a Ghanaian artist said in response to my question about truth in art. “Truth is like the color turquoise,” he said. “It changes under different light.” Turquoise was my truth about my life in Ghana. And these many years later, I never changed my truth about Atar.

I sent him the book, and he posed holding itfor a photo. He’s 80 now, and I have just a handful of photos of him from over the years. He enriched my life. I hope he enjoys the read.


Turquoise: Three Years in Ghana: A Peace Corps Memoir
by Lawrence Grobel (Ghana 1968-71)
HMH Press
384 pages
January 2022
$9.00 (Kindle); $ 20.00 (Paperback)


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