David Banks: I'm on my way back from west Africa - and my friends are prepared

Journal columnist David Banks heads back to Northumberland after his trip to Africa - where they see Ebola rather differently

Anne-Marie Sanderson/DoH/PA Wire Staff at a hospital take part in an exercise to test Britain's readiness for an Ebola outbreak
Staff at a hospital take part in an exercise to test Britain's readiness for an Ebola outbreak

I expect nothing less than fully-equipped air ambulance to meet my Ebola Air flight when it touches down at Heathrow next week. After all I will, by all accounts have had a pretty miserable journey.

I will have been marched sullenly through X-ray Alley at Kotoka Airport, beltless and clutching a fistful of trouser waistband whilst my untied shoelaces trail in the dust. Along the jerky conveyor belt my small change, mobile phone, keys and camera will follow, coins dropping through a cracked plastic container that is so accidentally ventilated it does everything except actually CONTAIN anything.

That is par for the course when experiencing what, in that halcyon pre-terrorist age, was glibly called ‘luxury air travel’; what will be a new experience altogether, I am told, will be our reception at Heathrow where, in addition to the usual delays and drug-sniffing police dogs (they sniff so much I think THEY are on cocaine) we will be offered a battery of health checks involving tongue depressors and electronic thermometers poked into a variety of orifices. Sounds like fun, no?

What is more disturbing is the rather un-British panic currently building up a head of steam back in Godzone where my columnist comrade-in-arms Keith Hann’s Churchillian call to “Keep Calm and Carry On” seems not to have had the desired effect, possibly due to the unfortunate timing which saw it appear on the same day as Health Minister Jeremy Hunt declared that Ebola could be bigger than AIDS, Lord Winston predicted an airborne variant might emerge any day now and the UN talked of civil society in West Africa approaching breakdown.

No surprise, then, at the tenor of messages from my ‘friends’ at the Red Lion that evaded the power outages and broadband breakdowns to arrive on my banana palm-fringed veranda here in Accra.

The Byreman is declining to continue our twice-a-week car share to the pub until I have been given a full health clearance by the Coldstream nit-nurse; Klondike sent me an early formal invitation to the champagne unfurling of his Barmoor wind farm only if I agree to wade waist-deep through the gallons of disinfectant left over from the last foot and mouth outbreak; Billy the Kid, the sheep king, has offered me a full-body immersion in his sheep dip “but only after I get my gimmers finished”.

Meanwhile the Lawnmower Salesman, my former domino partner (don’t ask) and ever the most vociferous of my critics, has demanded nothing less of the landlord than I face a permanent ban from everywhere in the pub apart from the smokers’ lean-to. And Johnny Jeffreys, Heed Mon at the Kelso track, has had me ‘warned off’ the racecourse in case the horses catch it.

Things, quite obviously, are getting out of hand since word of my ‘gyppy tummy’ got out, so let me straighten things out a little: West Africa is not a single state but a collection of countries equivalent in size to Western Europe. These underdeveloped nation states have one thing in common, apart from horrific traffic, power cuts and poverty, and it certainly isn’t Ebola – that has so far affected only the Atlantic coast countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The common thread is raging hot chilli. West Africa is afloat with the stuff; the locals eat it morning, noon and night, every day. As a result, my son the chef pointed out, there are people here who have never seen solid waste since they were in nappies. It’s enough to make Morebottle’s mouth water (the chilli I mean, not the nappies).

As final proof of their addiction to the Satanic additive I present to you Ghana’s greatest delicacy, the ‘ketchup’ of this hotter-than-hell continent, made with six ounces of shrimp paste, six ounces of ginger, six POUNDS of ground chilli and eaten with every meal.

I mistook it for plum sauce at the local Chinese on our second night here, smothered my spring roll with it and swallowed the lot in one gulp. As a result I spent the next three days hovering between bedroom and bathroom and wishing someone had told me its name BEFORE I tried it.

It is called shittoh. Honestly!



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