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Being a person of height is a tall order in Ghana

Godwin Kuadey leans forward in a small folding chair, enveloping it in his 6-foot-5-inch frame, and spits out a word. "Datsun!" he says, his voice dripping with disdain.

"Some cars are just so small," the usually genial police official says, his voice softening and a weary look coming over his face. "I have to bend to get in."For tall men, Accra's beat-up taxi fleet of old Japanese compacts is a big problem - but just one among many. They say they face name-calling, quests for impossible-to-find shoe sizes and a nagging fear that when the time comes, their families won't find coffins long enough for them.

The problem, some say, is that people native to the coastal region of this West African nation generally are shortish, so taller folks from the interior - particularly the very tall ones - stand out when they move to Accra, the coastal capital.

But in a city where a 5-foot-5-inch man can be called "Big Joe" - and only be exaggerating by a few inches - some of these tall guys have banded together.

"To be among tall men - you feel free, you feel so free," Kuadey says of the time he spends with Ghana's Tall Men's Club.

But the members of the 3-year-old club aren't quite ready to share tall-people solidarity with tall women, who say they face similar disdain. The men say they want to work on their own problems first.

"It's difficult being tall here," says Abraham Klobudu, another police official. "You really have a lot of problems."

Klobudu, who is 6-foot-7, re-fuses to even try to drive Japanese cars, and he shops for clothes on occasional trips abroad.

It's not that this city is full of short people. Walk down the streets of Accra and nothing seems strange until someone tall goes by. Then it becomes obvious just how few really tall people there are here.

And they put up with more than their share of ridicule.

There's more than one policeman named Kuadey, a snickering colleague informs visitors to the precinct station.

"Are you looking for Kuadey?" he asks, holding his hand at waist level. "Or tip-tall Kuadey?" he adds, raising his hand high above his head and struggling not to giggle when he mentions his tall boss.

Despite the ridicule, though, the tall men don't lament their height. They like the attention, and the respect.

"I enjoy the whole thing," Kuadey says. "People look at you like they are looking at a supernatural being."

But in Accra, tall is a relative term.

Joe Mensah, who is 5-foot-5 but drives a taxi with "Big Joe" splashed across the trunk, defends his nickname.

"I am big," insists the driver, who isn't very heavy either. "If a person is five-five that means he is tall."

Well, maybe, though the club draws the line at six feet.

"In a culture where most people are of an average height, five-seven or five-eight, when you are six foot you stick out," says Ellen Bortei-Doku Aryeetey, a sociologist at the University of Ghana. "That could be a basis for people to take a swipe at you - or to admire you."

Bortei-Doku theorizes that views on height have changed in recent years as movement has increased across regional lines and tall men, once much more common in the north, have become less con-spicuous in Accra.

So she questions whether tall people run into genuine prejudice anymore.

Nonsense, club members say.

"In our culture, if you are tall you are expected to marry a short woman to balance it out," says J.G.K. Mensah, the club's founder. "But we are saying there shouldn't be a difference."