The ’60s was a turbulent time in America. It was the Age of Aquarius but also the age of domestic conflict among those who supported the Vietnam War and those who opposed it–particularly the young men being drafted to fight it. For some, there was a better way to serve their country: the Peace Corps. An idealistic venture that kept the Hounds of War at bay. And that’s what led Lawrence Grobel to Ghana, a country he knew absolutely nothing about, located 6000 miles away on the Gold Coast of West Africa.
Turquoise is based on the memoir he wrote while teaching at the Institute of Journalism in Accra, the capital city, and traveling throughout Ghana and West Africa. It’s a brilliant collection of snapshots, detailing everything he experienced in real time, from embarrassing cocktail talk at the American Embassy to witnessing fetish ceremonies and meeting hustlers, con men, artists, prostitutes, and an actual ghost. It’s a reflection of daily life with a charming and often frustrating array of characters: the “houseboy” who became like a brother; the travelers who sometimes came to stay; the pot smoking Volunteers on leave from the bush; the intrepid Belgian National Geographic photographer; the fearless Australian motorcyclist; the female Zorba from Italy; the neighbor whose sarcasm kept him in stitches; and the meaningful romance with a woman who would eventually become one of Ghana’s greatest artists.
There are hilarious moments, like the Ghanaian reaction to the moon rock America was exhibiting around the world. There are frustrating moments dealing with bureaucracies from both countries; there are traders to bargain with, festivals and crazy parties to attend, and unique experiences with students, friends, and colleagues.
It’s a fascinating look back at a moment in time before cell phones connected Africans to each other and the rest of the world; when Ghana, just 11 years after its independence from British colonial rule, was facing a struggle between democracy and military rule; when the great majority of its then 8 million people still lived in rural villages and the country was trying to balance ancestral traditions with the emerging developments of the modern world.
While teaching at the Institute, Grobel also found himself writing speeches for local politicians and articles for newspapers and magazines. During one interview the renowned Ghanaian sculptor Vincent Kofi spoke to him about truth in art, saying that “Truth is like the color turquoise, it changes under different light.” Written in the first person, Turquoise is Grobel’s uncensored view of his Peace Corps experience and the profound effect the 3 years living and working in Ghana had in shaping his views of the world and the journalist he was to become. It’s funny, sad, poignant, informative, universal in its humanity, and he pulls no punches; especially when it comes to himself. It’s a coming-of-age story and a coming together of 2 cultures. It’s the truth as Lawrence Grobel experienced it, told in a style as vibrant as the color itself. It’s a uniquely original memoir. And it’s a terrific read.
TURQUOISE: Three Years in Ghana: A Peace Corps Memoir
Lawrence M. Grobel (Ghana 1968-71)
$20.00 (paperback), $9.00 (Kindle)