Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Long & Winding Road

During my visit home I managed a couple of journeys that required public transport, one from Kent to Yorkshire which I covered in a single morning. Whilst sitting in a clean, comfy train carriage speeding north from London I contemplated travelling a similar distance in Ghana. Not surprisingly, I was rewarded with the expected challenging journey back up to Nadowli from Accra last weekend.  This was not helped by the weight of my bags full of “goodies” from home. Needless to say my camera was buried deep inside and had I produced it the emotional temperature of the participants in the following pantomime would have risen significantly.

Buying a bus ticket anywhere here is a bit of a lottery. Rarely do you acquire one from a ticket office. It is luck whether there is one or not and if you are lucky you may find your seat not quite what you are expecting or you are standing………….for a at least 5 hours and that is a shorter trip! Sometimes, being European is an advantage as tickets can be found in the hope that we will pay over the odds for them. Everyone assumes we are rich.

The first leg from Accra to Kumasi was reasonably normal in that we all had a seat. Fortunately, I wasn’t in the seat in front which was permanently reclined. Four very large boxes were pushed up the aisle, conveniently blocking Emergency Exits and any chance of getting out easily. The journey was uneventful. However, the country holds elections this year and the government have suddenly decided to make some headway with finishing the main highway north out of Accra. For 2 hours we wove between potholes in the red dirt road so large you could lose someone in them. As we passed workmen who continued to dig and move earth with an assortment of basic tools through clouds of dust, I marvelled at the robustness of the buses. That is a dangerous thought as plenty break down in the most inaccessible places.  Some men in flip flops supervised the few large rolling machines. They were working hard but it was obvious that this will be a long job. The bus arrived in Kumasi 5 hours later having traveled just 150miles!

Fortunately, I travelled with my Dutch friends Bas and Jeannine as far as Wa, otherwise this whole process is twice as gruelling on my own. We spent the night at the Presbyterian Guest House which is basic but comfortable. By 6 o’clock on Sunday morning we were standing in a sizeable crowd of Ghanaians beside a bus proudly displaying Wa as its destination. Confusingly, there were quite a number of people pretending to be in charge and it took a while to decide who to approach regarding tickets. At least 4 men held a fistful of notes each but a woman had a bagful and she did most of the shouting! Patience is a virtue and essential in these matters.  There is a lot of coming and going, taking someone aside, shouting and waving of arms. It appeared we had the last 3 seats available but 2 hours later we still hadn’t been encouraged to board the bus. I find these experiences fascinating to watch in terms of human behaviour but after a few hours I tire of them and pray to get a move on!

 At one point the negotiating prices for luggage in the “hold” began. The luggage compartment doors were lifted and 3 men woke up and climbed out. I think one was the driver. Unusually, there was no livestock to be transported this time, nor mattresses. However, endless lengths of plastic were threaded through the windows and filled the space above our heads. By then I had entered the bus to ensure our seats did exist and to claim them with pieces of hand luggage. I noticed the seats had seat covers over them and plastic sheeting covering the covers. All fabric seats are like this. There must be a lot of buses that are scrapped at the end of their long lives with pristine plush seats inside them! Having persuaded an angry young man wearing an “Asda, night staff” T shirt with a fistful of cedis that I was not paying more for my suitcase than I was for myself, I finally climbed aboard. I was followed by a small boy carrying a pile of plastic stools which were arranged up the aisle. 

It was another hour and a half before we had set off, then filled up with petrol and waited in the layby for the obligatory armed policeman…………oh, and stopped at a private house to deliver a parcel and collect snacks for the driver and his large crew. The bus was packed! One of the “crew” decided to check everyone’s tickets after we were all on and he had to climb over the people sitting in the aisle to get right through the bus. It was all exhausting to be a part of and I looked forward to dozing off. 

“Enterprise” is the only way many Ghanaians can make a living. At intervals on any trip you come across Police and Customs Check Points. Nothing much seems to happen there but it makes the officers feel important and all vehicles need to slow down to pass through. Whole teams of women descend on the buses and a number of transactions take place in those few seconds that the bus travels at running pace. Loaves of bread and sachets of water are the most popular items thrust through the windows, although smoked fish, hard boiled eggs, doughnut type cakes and strange things on skewers can be had. Payment is often thrown out as the bus gathers speed to be chased for along the kerb.

This part of our journey  was the longest at 300 miles and we eventually arrived in Wa at 3.30pm. I dragged my luggage the short distance to the tro tro station and claimed a seat on the next one to Nadowli.  Gemma, my housemate, met the tro and together we carried my bags to the house.

A cup of tea and a Rich Tea biscuit, retrieved from my suitcase, revived me somewhat as I contemplated the events of the last 2 days.  I had been lucky. Nothing untoward had befallen us between Accra and home. Nobody had been in any hurry. We all got to our destinations safely with all our belongings.  When the 11:22 from Tonbridge to London Bridge is a few minutes late I shall reflect on my 2 day journey up Ghana and think about how fortunate I have been.  Mind you, it will be a while before I can persuade myself to head south again!

No comments:

Post a Comment