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Posts Tagged ‘driving’

In just a few short days my surroundings are going to be changing pretty dramatically. No more goats, chickens, lizards, tro-tros, balancing acts, orange dirt or public urination. No more smelling fresh-cut oranges and coconuts in one breath and sewage in the next. No more shouts of ‘obruni’, proclamations of love or hissing for attention. I’ll see bits and pieces elsewhere, but not this unique combination.

Nine weeks really flew by, and not just for me. I have many stories to catch up on when I get home. New jobs, a baby, another year of school, traveling around the U.S., fall sports, new experiences, new cities; all of which I’m looking forward to hearing about.

But I will miss Ghana and its colors, vivid and full of life. Just like the people, the music and the culture.

Green and yellow.

And, just because, some humorous taxi incidents that happened this past week. I won’t really miss any of this:

  • My taxi ran out of gas. At least, that’s what the driver attributed our crawling to, but it’s hard to say when the dashboard doesn’t work. I made it home, though, after he hailed another taxi for us.
  • I announced my wedding next year. That is, after a different taxi driver professed his love for me. Then he saw the ring (on my middle finger) and was distraught. I decided to go with it and started talking about my ‘fiance’. He was silent the rest of the way.
  • When I arrived at my destination (this is a third taxi), the driver informed me he had no change. So, I waited while he ran around the street asking other drivers to break my 10. He had no luck and instead bought me credits for my phone, which I needed anyway.

Tomorrow I’m waking up early for a boat ride!

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Flying sardines

You know the game ‘sardines’? Where one person hides and everyone else has to find that person, squishing into the hiding space until the last one looking becomes ‘it’ the next round? Sometimes I feel like I’m playing that game when I’m riding on a tro-tro. Especially Sunday night, trying to come back from Cape Coast when there weren’t many options.

VYING FOR A SEAT

As much as I wanted to just stay in Cape Coast, I knew I had to go back to Accra and having to wait for a decent ride was frustrating. Sure there were some tro-tros and buses that pulled up, but they were either in bad shape or had a TV in them. You would think I would want to have a TV to help the two hours pass.

Wrong.

Ghanaian and Nigerian soap operas are the usual entertainment and the sound quality is bad. So when someone cries or yells in the show (which is often)  I feel like I might lose my mind or go deaf, or both. Yes I’m being dramatic, but it’s so loud and I can’t nap or listen to music, let alone hear myself think.

After waiting for an hour, we finally got a seat that many people were fighting over because it was a newer van. They packed us in, four per row, and we were on our way.

HURTLING ALONG

Again I asked myself, ‘what is overspeeding?’ (reminder that there are signs on the roads reminding drivers that ‘overspeeding kills’) Our driver did not seem to worry about the definition or consequences. I have yet to see anyone pulled over and my friend said it really only happens during daylight. Convenient.

The 50 km/hr ( approx. 30 mi/hr) speed limit was insignificant to him; we did double it and then some. Granted, the roads were paved, but when you have 22 people crammed into a van and do not slow down in the slightest for speed bumps, it is scary.

I’ve taken to closing my eyes at times when I don’t know what’s going to happen.

For instance, when we got stuck behind a line of cars who were driving slower than us our driver wanted to pass (they say ‘overpass’) them. Well as we started to do so, the car ahead of us did too. Regardless we kept going. That is, until a bunch of passengers started yelling at the driver, ‘take your time!’

NOT AGAIN!

Shortly after we had driven over another set of speed bumps as if they were non-existent, I heard a strange bumping noise. My mind flashed back to a tro-tro ride when the tire had popped and I glanced around the van to see if anyone else was alarmed.

I was not alone. We were trying to figure out what it was because the driver paid no attention to it. Right as I was envisioning us careening off the road on three tires, I realized the passenger in the front seat had not buckled and, while the van bumped along, his seat belt clanked against the door frame.

Crisis averted.

FRESH AIR, PLEASE

Throughout this 90 minute ordeal (naturally we made it back in good time, passing up a van that left at least 20 minutes before us) the smell of body odor occasionally wafted in my direction. The gentleman to my left was wearing a coat, despite the heat of the day, and kept dozing off while leaning on the seat in front of us. Due to his positioning, his armpits were exposed and he was also leaning into me when we turned corners. I nudged him a few times, then just gave up. I knew I needed a shower, too.

A SERENE WEEKEND

Thankfully, I had a good time in Cape Coast and it was sunny, unlike the overcast skies of our last trip. Along with the suspended walkway at Kakum and poking crocodiles, I also walked around the town a bit and went to a beautiful beach on Sunday.

Needless to say, I reflected on those calm moments while flying over speed bumps and holding my breath.

Brenu Beach, a relatively secluded spot just west of Cape Coast.

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I got onto the tro-tro this morning in a daze. The 20 other people on it were all silent and I stared out the window, lost in my thoughts.

When someone started tapping on my shoulder, I turned around quickly and found that everyone in the back of the tro-tro was staring at me. They motioned to a woman on one of the back benches. I smiled, assuming she wanted to talk to the Obruni or something.

Their response to my smile was more gesturing and incredulous looks. I then realized that it had nothing to do with me. The woman just needed to exit the tro-tro and my seat was blocking her path.

I spent the rest of my 90 minute ride attentive and ready to move when necessary and was reminded that it’s not all about me.

In other news, the worms appear to be dying!

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What’s that sound?

I didn’t sleep very well last night and I can pretty confidently attribute it to two things:

  1. Couldn’t stop thinking about/scratching the worms in my foot.
  2. I had my first day at The Business and Financial Times of Ghana.

So when I dragged myself to the taxi station early this morning, I was half awake. Therefore I saw no problem with my taxi driver taking a ‘faster way’ around the traffic. I just wanted to get there.

Naturally the route was unpaved and we were being tossed around. It was lulling, really, until I was suddenly brought back to reality when the driver got angry and loudly ‘hissed’ at a car that cut us off. That’s a surefire way to up your heart rate.

SSSSSSSSSSSS

Need to get someone’s attention? Many Ghanaians use this technique. It’s not exactly a cat ‘hiss’…it comes out in that same quick way, but is more of an ‘s’ sound. It’s rarely used in the angry way my taxi driver used it, but never say never.

Leo again. He's actually meowing but it could pass as a hiss.

Another noise used to get your attention is a lip puckering noise. Like someone’s giving you a big, noisy kiss on your cheek.

CREAKING

The suspension on this taxi also seemed to be shot. Not surprising and not a first, just loud given all the bumps we were navigating through. It sounded like bad bed springs, especially right near my wheel.

CLAPPING

My first day at the paper went well, once I finally found my way to their offices. I went with one of the reporters to two press conferences.

First we went to a business conference of sorts in which local companies were having a competition for entrepreneurs to have their business model funded. The speakers offered good insight about Ghana’s growing economy and how to sustain growth.

The second featured a bunch of musicians who were performing a concert tonight. American R&B artist Trey Songz and model Amber Rose were there along with a Nigerian singer and several Ghanaian groups. It was a cool experience, especially since I probably wouldn’t be able to get that close at home.

I’m not a huge fan of either, though, plus Rose said, ‘I’m used to just being quiet and looking pretty most of the time’, in regards to the fact that she was co-hosting the concert and was afraid of doing ‘something stupid’ on stage.

MORSE CODE

For some reason that’s the sound I associated with my tro-tro ride to the taxi station. We sat in traffic for a long time and the hollowed out tro-tro that didn’t seem like it should be able to start would rattle while we were stationary.

In particular the gas pedal rattled and at such a fast speed that, again, I thought of morse code. Then I thought of the movie Balto because I remembered they used morse code in it and from there I’m not sure where my thoughts drifted off. Right now they’re going to dream land. Night and thanks again for the continued support!

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Have I mentioned how bad traffic is in Accra? Not to worry. I passed it all by from the back of a motorbike this afternoon and I have the burn to prove it.

Apparently I don’t know how to properly dismount the back of the motorbike. I think I was supposed to let the driver get off first? I was relieved to be at my destination and just hopped off it, noticing a stinging pain on my leg. That’s because I had touched my calf to the very hot pipe that had just been propelling us through traffic. I don’t recommend it; it’s blistering.

That is now the second time that I have ridden a motorbike while abroad. The first time was on a road that weaved down the side of a mountain in Austria. I really can’t decide which one was more terrifying and exhilarating.

When I was in Austria it was colder and my fear was that if we took a wrong turn, I would become one with the mountain. After realizing that I needed to lean my body with the motorbike to make it easier on the driver, the ride became a lot more fun.

So this time I had the advantage of knowing how to correctly serve as a passenger, but there was the added element of traffic. While we were weaving in and out of traffic, beeping the horn, I clutched the back handle for dear life. Of course, the irony of it is that I was hurt getting off of the bike.

Well I’m at an internet cafe in the mall now, listening to their techno music bump in the background. Trying to get some stuff done today! 1 more month in Ghana.

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So I know I’ve mentioned the infamous tro-tro several times in the past few weeks. They are a staple here in Ghana and I’ve sampled quite a few of them. Lately I’ve been splurging a bit just to take my own taxi because it’s been hot and tro-tros usually involve cramming in next to lots of people.

This afternoon I’m probably going to suck it up, though, because tro-tros are the cheapest way to go. Unless you walk.

The video below was taken on my way to Kintampo Waterfalls, located just about halfway between the north and the south. The roads leading to our destination were a mixture of everything you can imagine: potholes, gravel, dirt, pavement. Luckily, they seemed to be doing some work on them so hopefully people will soon be riding more smoothly.

You may have noticed the woman in front of me was wiping her hair with a handkerchief. That was because we were traveling so fast that the amount of dust we managed to stir up was unbelievable.

Also, if you didn’t pick up on it from my story about the taxi driver’s handkerchief the other day, they’re commonly used when it’s hot out. Regardless, keeping the windows open was necessary in order to create airflow, so I arrived at Kintampo covered in a fine layer of orange dust.

No, contrary to how it may appear, I have not been fake tanning. That's just flakes the earth all over me!

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A matter of perspective

I haven’t felt very fearful while I’ve been here, and any time I have it’s mostly been attributed to driving. Which is why I shouldn’t be surprised that my scariest experience yet took place this evening in a taxi.

I guess I thought that the suspended walkways in the canopy of Kakum rainforest would terrify me most. But, no! Those weren’t too bad once you started moving and got over the fact that it felt similar to walking the plank (or so I’ve heard).

The canopy walkway at Kakum National Park.

The guide had asked us beforehand if anyone was afraid of heights. I didn’t raise my hand, even though I am. It seems to be situational for me, though, and depends greatly on how safe I feel. He assured us that ‘the only way anyone would fall is if they jumped.’ There was no way I was going to do that.

I just had to keep moving forward!

The trees surrounding us were never forested and, therefore, very tall.

So, once I got over the wobbling of the bridge it was very worth it. The view was beautiful, even though the animals seemed to be hiding from the very obvious tourist trap.

It also wasn’t too terrifying when, on our way back from Kakum, the tro-tro got a flat tire. I was confused as to why we were still driving, then realized the mate was hanging out of the window watching for the tire to completely deflate. Of course. I figured he had it under control, and sure enough he changed the tire in no time.

The mate changed the tire in about 15 minutes.

Taking pictures of the scenery while waiting in the rain.

But back to my taxi driver. I never got his name so I’ll just call him Ted. He said he’d take me for 10 cedis, which was a fair price, so I got in. Well after I closed the door he said, ‘you’re a rich white lady…give me 12 cedis.’ I laughed and told him I was a student and not rich and left it at that.

Well Ted was an interesting driver and aggressive honker. I’ve gotten used to people randomly speeding as fast as they can for a short stretch and switching lanes constantly.

Ted decided we were above that, though, and just got into the opposite lane to pass a long line of cars that were waiting for the light to change. He then got angry when no one would let him in. (Really? You’re surprised?) Another taxi finally did, though, and we waited in traffic some more.

Today was pretty hot, so I wasn’t surprised when he pulled out his handkerchief to wipe off some sweat. I was surprised when he first put the handkerchief inside his shirt to wipe out both armpits and then wiped his face. If you’re going to do that, at least switch up the order.

His disdain for congested traffic continued, but at times he just laughed at it deeply or spoke to himself. At one point he got out of the car, engine running, and it took me a second to realize he was peeing on the side of the road. The next time it happened, I understood. It’s common to see men peeing on the side of the road, I just didn’t realize it also happened while waiting for traffic. And, of course, Ted got angry that people passed his idling car while he was peeing.

Lots of honking, hard braking and random muttering later we made it close to home and I decided I would walk the last stretch of the way. And, I did end up paying him 12 cedis because traffic was bad. Then again, so was the ride. I’m just thankful that I have yet to experience worse.

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