It 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 crowd.

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 to Timbuktu.

— A.G. Vermouth

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