Why the barge?

 

The title of this blog is an ode to the mesmerising opening paragraphs, and the book as a whole, of Ryszard Kapuscinski’s “The Soccer War”. I have read those lines a thousand times. About living on a barge in the backstreets of Accra. The barge is essentially a hotel, Hotel Metropol. The barge. There are just so many reasons why these opening paragraphs have fascinated me so much.

The barge itself. The barge represents a home away from home, a temporary, fragile living arrangement. It is difficult to separate the barge from the other elements described in these paragraphs, but if one does the result is the barge as an imaginery, symbolic place to live, without the excessive bagagge of “home”. A place where a nomad will stop for rest, where the shipwrecked and lost touch down for a connection with others. Connection for the wanderers, the lone-wolfs, and those who crave solitude.

The barge, of course is a traveller’s oasis, and a traveller’s tale. A point on the map, where life’s hidden details come to meet. The winners, the loosers, those that once had it all and those who are chasing it all their lives. Those who have lost the people whom they lived for, and those who have gone through life alone. This is what the barge is in itself.

Kapuscinski’s barge sits in Accra. An exotic location, especially when the author was there, where heat and humidity take its toll on someone from foreign lands. Now, I have never been to Accra itself, but reading these lines I am very quickly transported to long summer nights on islands of Thailand, dusty streets of Siem Reap, Laung Prabang, Vientien, Australia’s Alice Springs. When one travels or waits for something in a strange place, the days are long and pointless. Then comes the warm, sticky evening, the bars and verandahs, where sitting, watching and drinking can be a luxury for those on holidays, but a kind of never-ending torture for those stuck here, voluntarily or not. To get through it, and hopefully not alone, these lost souls drink. Kapuscinski describes it very well, but the subject also comes up in Graham Greene novels among others.

The key element to the barge is, however the people. The people who ended up on the barge, living in this hotel of sorts. People with wonderfully colourful life stories. All had travelled, some made big money, others lost everything. These colourful stories will be, in some way, the inspiration for this blog.

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