This is how my day ended today:
Three-up on a moped careening down a dark and pot-holed road illuminated only by the stars in the midnight blue sky and the flickering light from the failing headlamp.
See me as we dodge insects thrown up in stark relief by the old headlamp against the oncoming road while the wind crackles the highlights and the cicadas chirp the lowlights in your ear.
The wind tugging at your head, hair and collar, anywhere it can reach you as the third man on the bike – strong enough to make your eyes water stightly, but not strong enough to remove the smile creeping onto your face despite the day you’ve just had.
So how did the day start? Well in actual fact the day, while not being specifically bad, has not been a great day and should not really have ended with me grinning fit to split my face.
What was five hours of travel on Wednesday and would have been two in the UK took us instead 11 hours total today including all the waiting.
It started off with a bus. No, it started off with traffic in Kumasi. For some interesting twisting of the laws of physics, the streets of Kumasi city center are incredibly quiet. Quiet that is, in comparison to just how grid locked they are trying to get into Kumasi. Between two people over three days we have averaged trips arriving around an hour later than targeted.
Today was no different. Ready by 10, waiting until 11 I was lucky enough in wasn’t later and that i had company to talk to between Adam, a fellow traveller, and the owner of the guest house and his wife.
Upon Derek’s arrival we set off to catch the bus to Techiman (which would be followed by catching a bus to Nsawkaw). On our arrival on Wednesday this walk was about half an hour. Today it was an hour total, walk and trotro ride, as fairly obvious upon asking, the bus terminal where you catch the bus is not where you can get dropped off.
Currently this is all fair and, although an extreme version, not anything significantly different from what you could and do find in the UK.
The next part though blows my socks off, sums up Africa and describes a wider potential problem all in one in my mind.
When we bought our ticket at 12pm, we then proceeded to have to wait three hours to leave, and then the actual ‘leaving’ took half an hour to happen.
So what happened? Well, firstly, today is a Sunday and so there was only one bus to Techiman (which importantly, is a three hour drive away). Not only that, but buses and all public transport in general here, do not run on a time table. Instead nothing leaves until it’s full, or it has to for other reasons, like daylight.
So you have to arrive early to ensure the seats don’t fill up, but mostly you will end up waiting around for huge lengths of time. In this case simply either it filling up, or 3pm so it will arrive around dusk.
For us, this ended up meaning we arrived at 12pm and waited for three hours, only for a last minute passenger to arrive with a huge amount of goods he needed transporting on the bus. It got so bad that by the end of it even other Ghanaians were getting annoyed.
So this brings up the point I want to make. In Ghana, in Africa, time is not valued. Or rather keeping time or not wasting time is, like several other things here, not valued highly.
So lets compare that to the UK. What group in the UK has to waste time based on transport? Ignoring those who’ve made it a choice such as living in a commuters belt and commuting in, that leaves us with those who are too poor to be able to afford their own transport and are forced to use buses etc. These people are forced to waste time in all sorts of ways as their time just isn’t as valuable so can be wasted, right?
Wrong. By devaluing their time because it is cheap and can be wasted like that you/we/they are forcing them to be less productive as so much of their time they could use for other things is wasted. And if someone is poor and unproductive, there is no way they will be able to break out of poverty.
Anyway, this is a small aside and is a fairly basic analysis of a much bigger and wider problem, bet it us something to be aware of.
Upon finally arriving in Techiman it was dark and there were no more buses to take so we had ho get a cab to Wenchi were we’d catch a second cab to Nsawkaw.
Cabs in Ghana aren’t used the same as in the uk. First of all they are used for longer distance much more and second is that people.will always share cabs, and to help this, cab drivers advertise using boards or shouting where they are going. You do still have cabs similar to how they’re used in Europe, but these are called drop cabs and you don’t see as many.
So we found a cab to wenchi. Unfortunately it took a long time to find tween after people who wanted to go also. At one point I was close to buying two fairs just so we could leave but but wasn’t necessary in the end.
Arriving in Wenchi we randomly or luckily bump into two other teachers who also want to head to Nsawkaw so we head off in the same cab.
By this point it is dark and has been since we arrived in Techiman. Driving in the dark in Ghana is not recommended for ones health, as we’re about to discover, and I admit I was fairly worried in both journeys.
So we set off to Nsawkaw, in a cab, going fairly fast. When ever a car comes the other way we struggle to see the road clearly bet mostly keep the speed up. Same is true for pedestrians or cyclists. In fact almost the only thing we slow down for is speed bumps and potholes.
Now speed bumps are signed and always around communities so easy to predict where they will be. Potholes, not so much. See where I’m going with this?
Yes, driving at full speed we hit a pothole. There’s an almighty crash, and the car is listing. If we were in a boat I would think we were about.to sink. As it is, I’m certain we’ve wrecked the suspension.
We manage to limp to the side of the road and all get out to see the state of the car. The suspension is fine, but we’ve blank out both left side wheels. We flag down a car to help. They can’t. Then a motor bike. This time they can so head back to Wenchi to get someone to come with new tires.
While we’re waiting, ANOTHER teacher driven past on his scooter, sees us and stops. After chatting for a bit he offers to give Derek and me a lift home while the other two teachers have to stay for a bit.
So on we get, us three plus two bags, and on we go andwthe rest, as it’s said, is history.
11 hours, but at the end of it all a smile and a grin. I’m starting to be more alright with Ghana now.