IT ALL BEGAN
was in the money change line at the airport in Accra, Ghana where
I first encountered the Balloon Hat. I happened to be asking the
guy in front of me why he'd come to the region, and when he replied
as expected — that he'd come for work — he looked annoyed.
Then, hesitating with a sidelong glance, he said he'd come to Africa
to make balloon hats for people. When I asked him if USAID or the
Peace Corps had sanctioned such an absurd idea, he gave me a withering
look and said he and his partner, a photographer documenting the
experience, were financing the project out of their own pockets.
By this time, Charlie, the photographer had arrived with their bags,
as my night's worth of money was being counted out under the change
window. I wished them both luck with an eye-rolling smirk, and disappeared
into the crowd around Customs.
My taxi driver took me to a random hotel he thought I'd like. He
said, "Yes, I know good hotel for you from America. Hotel California.
No problem." In the hotel's driveway, as he unloaded my bag
from the trunk, I looked around at all the zombies staring through
me from the outdoor bar, drunk on bottles of stout and/or stricken
with some intestinal parasite, most likely both. Then, looking over
to the porch, I noticed the same two freaks from the airport. Charlie
approached and apologized for losing me earlier. I didn't mention
that that had been my exact intention when I'd dived into the Customs
Charlie told me he and Addi had gotten the last room, but when they
saw me emerge from the cab, they'd booked it for all three of us.
"Hmm, a random kindness?" I thought, having no idea that
five weeks later I'd still be with them, hoping we could somehow
push a broken Toyota out of the deep sand track that is the road
— A.G. Vermouth