My Accra, by hairstylist Charlotte Mensah
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
When I was three months old, we left London to live with my grandparents in Accra. We lived in a compound house with a mango tree in the middle, and my grandma had a massive clay oven that she would use to make cakes and breads. It was a vibrant, atmospheric home – there were 47 of us living there. I left at the age of 11 to come to the UK. It was very different – it was so isolated and there wasn’t that freedom, that joy I had in Ghana. So from the get-go, I wanted to come back. It wasn’t until my 19th birthday that I managed to save enough money to buy a ticket. As soon as I got off the plane, I kissed the ground. Even now – and I’ve been in London for so long – I still have that feeling.
Accra has got so much to it. These days when I go back, I have to visit Makola Market first. It’s a great place to wander and to get lost in. They have the best fabrics if you’re looking for wax prints or tie dye. I get them to use as head wraps or sarongs. I give myself a bit of a detox there too, because there’s always a party in Accra, and you tend to eat a lot. So I go there to get pineapples, juicy mangoes, watermelon and a fruit that’s really popular called alasa. If you chew it for a long time, it becomes a natural chewing gum.
I work in fashion, so I always like to see what is happening. I love to go to Elle Lokko in the downtown Osu neighbourhood, where they have beautiful Kofie kimonos: the colours are vivid and the style looks good with anything: on top of jeans, as a jacket or as a dress. I like the fact that they sell a lot of pieces by female designers too. Viva Boutique is a one-stop shop – they have cool African brands like Éki Kèré but also Bottega and Valentino. I especially like it for the beauty products, such as R & R Luxury’s lovely shea oils and black soap, which so many friends in London ask me to get.
The Niobe Salon and Spa is where I’ll go for a manicure or pedicure, or a hot-stone massage. The girls are so strong that once you leave that massage table, you’ll sleep forever. They take their time and use lots of peppermint and jasmine oil. You feel brand new when you leave.
Another favourite place is The Mix Design Hub, which is a restaurant and work space. The restaurant upstairs overlooks the sea: eating on the terrace, with the feeling and the sound of the ocean, always gives me a sense of wellbeing. They serve different fusions of African recipes – I love the jollof rice. Last time I visited I went back three times for this dish – the richness of the tomato is amazing. Whenever I have to do a big meeting, I work from there. It’s beautiful, so you have a good background.
Speaking of beauty, ADA Noldor Artist Residency in Labadi really brings something different to Ghana. It’s the first contemporary art museum in the country. They are bringing people together from all over Africa – anybody with any talent around art and creativity can do a residency. I loved Mimi Adu-Serwaah’s show. She’s a pharmacist turned artist, which reaffirms my belief that there’s a hidden artist in all of us.
If you want to get away, Busua, on the way to the Ivory Coast, has great beaches, but it’s very quiet, so you could be the only person on the whole beach. If you take a walk at night, there are these insects that create a greenish light and illuminate the whole place.
Back in Accra, in the evening I will head to somewhere like Kōzo, a restaurant that serves a fusion of Ghanaian and Asian food and has got such a vibe. They always play good music – I like my neo soul and house. From there I’ll go to Skybar 25, up on the terrace, where they also have good music. If I have the energy and really want to dance, Sandbox Beach Club has amazing parties.
My top hotel right now is La Villa Boutique, which is in the centre so you can walk everywhere. It reminds me of old Ghana – it’s got those verandas. Built in the 1960s, it used to be the Russian embassy. They’ve kept the original features and haven’t tried to modify it too much. The pool is very African – it’s like you’re in a waterfall.