Big, branded and filled with controversy

 
Had my first ever Mahama bus ride earlier this week. See them everywhere but never sat in them until this week. And I have to tell you, the experience was like a series of set pieces created just for me.First thing was my surprise at the scant number of seats.Anyone still remember what happened the days after the standard trotro got the Kuffuor treatment and suddenly there was one less person in every trotro?
 

How we get used to the good things and never the bad, eh Accra?

Well, these new buses felt like a wind blew into a Kuffuor bus and took away both the inner seats and apparently its bewildered occupants. It actually felt empty. Not that that wasn’t a good thing; but it kind of hits you.

 

Next came the handling. Now, I’m no Car expert, but even the uninitiated quickly realizes that for buses that size, they maneuver through traffic quite easily and can stop at practically all bus stops smaller trotros can with the same stopping distance —
And boy, do these things move.
 
Oh and they are entirely closed and nya-nya-fied (Air conditioned). As someone who can stew in his own sweat and never realize it, I don’t personally care for air conditioning myself, but I imagine most would appreciate this.
 
Now, before I continue, I probably should note that this isn’t a Political discussion or appraisal whatsoever as much as it is a trotro blog post, however I couldn’t escape the controversy surrounding these things, for moments after I sat, a man in front of me felt the need to correct someone who accidentally refereed to it as a ‘Kuffuor bus’. It was only there I found out for my personal education, that these are in fact, ‘Mahama buses’.

HIPC junction, hotel Kuffuor, Kuffuor bus… Mahama buses.

Good to know.
 
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The ‘Mahama bus’. Artwork by Bright Ackwerh

 

But our guide didn’t stop there. And quickly, I came to the realization that not only did this man have a chip on his shoulder for anything NPP, he was also drunk or slightly… Well… mad, and he went on and on about the failings of Kuffuor (I assume personally because he kept referring to him by name) in comparison to Dear John numero quatro. He wasn’t talking to anyone specifically, and much of what he said was under his breath and to himself, but ever so often he’d work himself into a frenzy and shout at the top of his voice mid-sentence. Naturally he was becoming a nuisance and you could cut the tension in that bus with a knife. But as is to be expected, everyone suffered the disturbance in silence.I for my part, found a reason to get up and move to a different seat away from him before I accidentally locked eyes with him or worse, got drunk on his fumes — cheap booze gives me headaches.
 
About 15 minutes into his monologue, the bus driver told him off, to which, in classic drunk/ mad style, he retorted — And alas, the volume got louder. Now, a gentleman (picture attached, but face cut off to protect the guilty), who had been seated at the head of the bus, a step up, in a reverse seat, as though surveying his subjects from the iron throne, decided enough was enough. He’d been staring intensely at the man for about 15 minutes or so and he decided to intervene. First he begun escalating the situation by calling the man names. The man naturally began calling him names in return; many being expletives.You know sh*t is about to get real when someone refers to your mother with a choice word.
 
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The young man in his aptly labeled ‘Disorder’ shirt, called the man a few names too. But these fell and died in the face of the kind of words and rapid fire that would make a stronger man tear.Never get into a cussing match with a man more crude than yourself. The older man cussed with the disregard not uncommon of drunks talking to a congregation and no one in general, and the young man felt the sting of the withering barrage of insults, never mind all the eyes that had now focused on both him and his ego.
The bus driver had by now parked the bus and the ticket lady (Are they also called mates?) was trying to negotiate with the man to get off — As can be expected, without much success even to be noticed.
 
Finally, ‘Disorder’ rose, eyes fixed on his query, and grabbed the man by his collar and dragged him out the bus and onto the pavement. And I mean ‘onto’ seeing as they both pretty much tumbled out of the bus, both holding on to each other. They ended up on the ground, the older man on top of the younger man, reversed and reversed again.People, both within the bus and outside gathered round and managed to pry the young man, who was by now livid, off the old man and back on the bus. The doors closed and the old man was left shouting quietly through the glass as we drove off.
 
A woman from the Caribbean (I only know this because she spoke with the Jamaican-esque accent, but I can’t conclude as to her exact country)… Any way, she started shouting too, expressing her outrage at the whole proceedings with the sentence, ‘It’s not fair’, said over and over in staccato, only half-trying to get people to notice —
 
Not fair to the Disorder?
The bus conductor? To the bus in general… ?
 
Oh, to the old drunk man. Got it.
 
She stood as if to get off as a statement of her displeasure. Again, she was of two minds on whether to enjoy her nya-nya-fied ride in peace or make a stance for Justice and fair treatment of her fellow man.
 
‘Well that won’t work’, I thought quietly to myself. Didn’t you hear of Red Friday?
 
Her traveling companion quieted her down and gently urged her to sit, bringing the whole affair to an anticlimax.
 
Like my first trip on a train some years back, where half the passengers remained on the bus and outside of it as the train moved, and my first experience in an air conditioned trotro, this was definitely insightful.Somewhat convenient; almost staged perhaps — But my inner romantic has definitely had his lunch. After all was said and done however, the experience, fun as it may have been isn’t exactly remarkable to a person who has been in more than one trotro accident.
 
The question that did linger however was this: With much of traffic in Accra caused by untrained and undisciplined trotros clogging the roads everywhere, why aren’t these fast buses slowly replacing them entirely?
 
I understand why the ponderous Mass Transit buses didn’t — No one liked the orange.
But why aren’t these?
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Keep calm, and stay vigilant

“Lapaz?”, Says I.
“Two cedis twenty Peswas”, says the mate handing over a wad of notes with coins.

I stuff the lot into my wallet, and mentally recollect what it included.

One blue note, one yellow, one big coin, two average coins and a tiny one.

What’s that then? Five plus two is seven. The big coin is Fifty Peswas, the mediums are twenties and the tiny one is a Ten, making…. Five plus two… plus… is… Eighty Peswas? Eighty Peswas.

Except…

“Hey mate!”, I yell and show him an open palm and my disapproving yet calm expression

“I gave you Twenty cedis; not Ten. fa mi sisa ma mi”

His expression changes from feigned confusion to a fruitless look of indignation.

See my voice carries and I use it. Stage set.

He instinctively glances at the interested passengers between us then our eyes meet once again.

My bored expression says, ‘No use losing face for Ten cedis, dude. That was a twenty – The blue note. Your average Ghanaians won’t miss a twenty when someone whips it out’

His expression softens. A broad smile appears on his stupid mug and he hands me the remaining ten already in his hand.

Forget Sudoko and other mind games. Commuting will keep your memory sharp — that, or you’ll lose your shirt.

Counting blues

An interesting thing I’ve noticed taking trotros is how most of them replace whatever stock inner light bulb with a blue one.

Why is this so fascinating? Two words: Ghana cedis.

So those that haven’t really taken the time to look; the now-not-so-new ‘Ghana Cedis’, also known as ‘ghana’ or just… y’know, ‘cedis’ is quite the design ‘achievement, with each note having the same drawing at the back and one of several very complex images on the front that one wont commit to memory, they are almost indistinguishable except if you look at the exact value printed on the note – Quite a chore if you’re doing this in a bone-shaker and dealing with customers on all sides shoving notes in your face.

Now, each notes are one of several colors; Red, yellow, green, blue or brown; which wouldn’t be an issue at all — unless you’re color-blind, then red one cedi and green ten cedis may be something of a bore.

It’s quite the sight to behold when its evening and you’ve been bathed in trippy blue lights, and the mate is turning the note this way and that, trying to determine if the note in his hand is blue-Blue, cyan, violet, sickly green or just green. In other words; blue, green, red, brown or yellow – if you eliminate the blue factor.

I don’t know how many of these guys are into color-addition, but that can’t help the job, can it?

Can you imagine the probability of financial loss for small business owners due to human error thanks in great part to an ill-advised design in paper money without adding variables such as… Oh, blue light? Like the perils weren’t great enough.

I almost miss the days when mates were so gifted in telling notes apart, they didn’t even need the inside light to make change. Now they have to contend with both the notes, coins that are only distinguishable by feeling the half centimeter difference in diameter between them, plus a questionable choice of mood lighting.

Asking if the fancy lights is worth the risk is like asking, is it worth the risk having subwoofers in your boot instead of a spare tyre?

It really depends on how many times you can afford to make change for a five cedi note with the assumption its a twenty.

Picking beans.

“Adenta!”, came the voice of the mate.
I turned around and lept out of the way as the trotro swung sharply towards me and came to a halt right where I’d previously been standing.

I had just got off the phone asking my brother if he was still in town so that I could hang out and delay dealing what I anticipated to be a horrendous traffic jam all the way from Ring road, where I was, through 37, airport and even East Legon.

But this car was my shuttle straight to Madina.

‘there IS a God!’ Is what I’d have said if I believed in that sort of thing.

“where is it going?”, came a voice from besides me, I glanced up to see the cutest lady I had seen in a while. Her hair was held up in a bun, somewhat to the rear. She wore a maroon faut-silk top loosely draped over small but perky bosoms and narrow shoulders that met at a graceful neck. Her nose was slightly pinched, as opposed to ‘bOm’ like some of us. Her mouth was not quite full, but you’d be excused in thinking they were, probably because of how, in their natural state, they formed a slight pout.

She was about an inch shorter than me but it might have been on account of her posture. Her posture was terrible! Slightly slouched forward as though tired from a long day, but you could tell she was always that way. She wore tight black jeans and 4 inch heels that caused her slouch to become a pucker at the rear end.

I’ve never quite understood that little section of my mind that lit up for petite women with bad posture, but I don’t question it either. It’s not my thing generally, but it’s A thing, and that section of my mind was lit up like Christmas tree this evening.

This examination probably took split seconds and I was thankful I found my voice to say, “Adenta”.

She nodded and climbed in after me. We both made our way all the way to the back.

The mate climbed in after two more calls of, “Adenta! adenta!”, and slammed the door, causing the bus to quake once before shooting forward almost immediately, as the driver pulled into gear.

The bus was alive with noise, specifically, the loud argument of two men to the front. The one in the front wore a highlighter over his rather threadbare shirt. He was gaunt, his eyes jaundiced and his expression severe.

The second man was to the seat behind him; probably in his mid 30s with glasses. He wore a white dress shirt and possibly a tie. I couldn’t tell from my position behind them.

The man behind was taunting the man in front, who had turned around to face his accuser almost squarely. Something to do with his being a fraudster masquerading as a Trotro station official or whatever they are called; The guys with canes who collect money and make sure the trotro drivers behave at the Station.

The man wore his guilt behind defiant threats, but he wore it fully all the same. The man in the wife-beater to his left and the man in glasses to his rear won’t allow him off the bus until they got to a friendly neighborhood police station.

The man at the back had simply decided to make a fuss about it, jeering and raising his voice for all to hear.

I wasn’t in the mood, and so I put on my earphones and let Jackson Five take me away from it all. Or so I thought. But the men won’t let me. Their voices rose higher still.

I muttered to myself, “What a fine way to end a long day”

The girl to my left chuckled.

I had entirely forgotten about her. I glanced at her, smiled, and closed my eyes, trying to focus on, “ABC”.

And then she spoke

Someone said, men’s voice activates the part of your brain that decodes noises, while women’s voices activates the part of your brain that decodes music. Personally, I’m dubious about the theory, but it’s a nice theory, and in this particular case, I was willing to be a believer.

It was a confident voice, but a soft treble that rolled out without a discord.

I opened my eyes, popped my left earphone from my ear and asked her to repeat herself.

“what are they arguing about?”, she asked.
i explained to her, and she nodded; her eyes opening as though to say she found it quite incredible. But as much to let me know she was thoroughly engaged in all (and anything else) I had to say,

I nodded with a sidelong smile and shrugged.

As is my terrible flaw, I had already begun nitpicking. Her eyes, I noticed for the first time were large (Which I have been partial to in the past) but they weren’t bright or intense, but plain, bored in fact, in a way that belied her lively smile. Her nose, I now noted wasn’t just pinched, but rather her entire face was — Sort of like Sade, in a way that made her look mousy.

It wasn’t unattractive, but not really my cup of MILO.

‘Yaw, you’re too picky. It’s not like you have any serious prospects for someone you’re meeting on a trotro’. The irony and emphasized snobbery apparent in the statement stared back at me accusingly.

‘Yaw, you’re a snob’, the little voice said to me after a brief pause.

As I said this, my eyes kept darting up and down, following her hand as she gesticulated. She was talking again, but my mind was going, ‘Look at the nails’

She had a dark red nail vanish, pealing slightly on more than a few nails.
Her fingers were small, but not dainty.

‘Yaw. You’re a snob!’, I heard that little voice in my head say.

I nodded at whatever she said, and smiled. Maybe I was too tired to care really.

“where are you headed?”, I heard myself say.
“Ashale Botwe”.

“oh wow. I’m heading to Ashale Botwe too”, I said moronically.

Then added on reflex, “I’m going to School Junction”
Realizing What I had done, the little voice returned, saying ‘Its a trap! Don’t say ‘alight’. Don’t say ‘alight’ ‘

“I will alight at Highways”, she said.

My heart sunk. And almost immediately, the cassettes in my memory whirled to life and begun playing back all she had said prior.

And as it did, I begun noting how she pronounced everything.
I was disappointed. As much in myself as anything.

‘Yaw, you are a snob’, the little voice said in my head accusingly.

‘I’m just tired’, I protested, but I knew I was lying.

I smiled and nodded at a few more things she said and slowly glanced her over, to try to find something to tip the balance in favor of positives.

But in the end, she went quiet, and I didn’t ask or pursue the conversation, although she clearly wanted to talk.

We sat in silence the rest of the way.
She glanced my way a few times, disguising it as her adjusting something on her right side, while stealing a glance at me.

I kept her in corner eye vision for a bit, and a number of questions rolled to the front of my mind.

I hate to be the one who picks up conversations with strange women in trotros, but after so long taking the bus to places as far as Tema, day in and day out for years… Well, I had a list.

I did not, however, vocalize any question from this list on this particular occasion, and the silence became dead some way on the trip.

Finally, I saw her ‘alight’ at her destination and I glanced outside the window to see her turn and wave at me. I gave a limp wave back, and continued on to school junction.

How about this Option

Y’know that thing that happens in movies where a guy jumps into a taxi and says “Follow that car”, or “get me to so and so place as fast as you can” ?

Well, let’s just say, NOT – HAPPENING – IN – GHANA.

First off, ‘follow that car’ will require a lot more explaining than simply that, and by the time the cabbie gets it, you may as well have been running after the car in question, because it would be gone.

But more importantly,
The notion of getting to a destination pronto is contingent on A, the driver actually knowing where that place is, which increasingly, they do not, and B, them knowing all the shortcuts to avoid traffic and save time,

Which is neither here nor there unless we skip A.

Also, and this is something I’m now picking up on; most taxi drivers lack basic spacial recognition. Like, how far is too far to be considered shorter?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had them try to avoid 15minutes of traffic by going off to some godforsaken dirt road that took us 45 minutes, and a mild concussion.

…The aforementioned ‘shortcut’

Lately, I’ve resulted in simply ignoring their recommendations and going on, ‘I pay, you drive. Now here’s how we are doing this. Also turn off the goddamn radio or shut that guy up”

Well, I don’t say exactly that, but it pretty much results in the same effect.

Yes, I’ve been across Accra enough to know most paths and traffic conditions to avoid getting myself in more of a jam than I was trying to get out of so why rely on an amateur?

Case in point.
Today I had three destinations to reach at very different parts of Accra, one after the next.
The first, at the mouth of Tema, on the Nungua side, in the morning
The second, close to Abeka Junction, in the afternoon
The final. At Haatso in the evening.

Now, throw in variables X, Y and Z, where X is traffic in Accra, Y, is the time of year i.e. December, and Saturday a.k.a Market day a.k.a Funeral day.

Variable Z is simply this, I don’t own a car so I use trotro and in rare situations, taxi to get where ever I need to go, and then throw in all that is implied by the dependence on a form of transportation that is, let’s say, less than precise.

Now, we have those variables plugged in, plot out the route I’d need to take from Ashale Botwe, where I call home, to my three destinations in the order I’ve mentioned them… Oh, and I needed to get back to Ashale Botwe after Abeka, BEFORE going back to Haatso, because shit happens.

Now taxi driver A, suggests we can get to Abeka from the beach road, by driving towards circle, cutting on to the Kanda High way and slicing through Nima, through Agbelenkpe and… Stop!

So basically, we’re zig-zagging around the L of the ring road-Abeka junction route… Why? And passing through four, count-em, FOUR potential traffic areas instead of the one?

That’s taxi logic for you.

Then there is this second cabbie;
Coming from Ashale Botwe towards Haatso, let’s do a bit of the Ashale Botwe road and shoot through East Legon for a bit before heading to Madina-New Road… Because that major round is going to be such a sinch on this particular Christmas Saturday evening.

Once again, nope!

Well, now that you’re aware of these little fact about taking cabs in Accra, go out there and beat the Traffic!

… Or don’t; because its Christmas, and y’know, traffic kinda REALLY sucks this time of year

Dead Tired

His head was a brick propped up against me. With every bump and weave of the trotro, I felt it rock away only to slam back into my shoulder.

I should have been annoyed by this, but at 8pm, and on the long dark road from Dodowa back to Atomic Junction, I didn’t have the energy to be expressive.

Instead, I decided to solve my sleeping-passenger problem with the Inception Kick. In my case, that involved him experiencing a very real feeling of falling, and being forced awake by the simple fact that his improvised pillow had mysteriously moved.

I timed my move to coincide with his head motion,

Rock away, slam back, rock away, slam ba… I angled my shoulder and faced away, so his head would slide behind me.

He did not wake. Instead I was met with the sickening feeling of the force as his limp body as it slid behind and almost sprawled on the seat.

I instinctively spun around and grabbed for his forehead to stop his descent. My second arm grabbed his shoulder closest to me.

I held him for a second. He didn’t stir.

He must have been about 12. Or he might have been 16 and small for his age; I couldn’t be sure.

As I slowly propped him back up, I was hit with the sickening possibility that I may have been holding a corpse.

His skin was clammy from sweat and his temperature hard to tell.
“No one sleeps that soundly”, I thought.

I looked around me, straining to see the disembodied faces in the dim blue light of the bus. Many were in various positions, asleep themselves. But others were awake, deep in some personal thought.

The guy behind me was awake though, and staring at me. I avoided looking at him directly, and instead got a sense of him from corner-eye vision.

He didn’t seem concerned with the body besides me, or he had not noticed how the boy flopped around like a doll.

Gently, I pushed the boy back up. I glanced at his chest, but it was hard to see if he was breathing through his well-worn T-Shirt.

I slowly turned away.

Then came the next jolt as the trotro veered to overtake another car. The body tipped my way briefly before swinging to the left towards the fat woman at the window seat, then violently forward as the driver hit the break to avoid running into a car ahead. His head hit the back of the seat in front of him squarely, then slammed backward. He remained motionless, except for his head angled at a very uncomfortable angle.

“no one can sleep that soundly”, I said to myself a second time.

My stomach turned as, over and over, I saw the boy slam this way and that with his hands to his side and his eyes perfectly shut.

He kept this up as the driver kept zig-zagging between slower vehicles and hitting the break suddenly at traffic lights. It was a disturbing sight to behold, the flopping.

I tried keeping an eye on the road to focus on something else.

Finally, the car slowed to a crawl and came to a stop.

There was a thud, and I noticed the fat woman slap the boy’s shoulder,
“b3 sinh” she said sharply, as she hit him a second time, even harder,

Suddenly the corpse’ eyes fluttered open and wiped his face.
The mother grumbled something in Twi, and half stood as so did he.

I stood and moved out of the way as both mother and now wide awake boy climbed off the bus. The latter, probably still wondering what planet he was on

Spiritual tag team

I call this an assault.

My fake Beats earphones just DIED this morning, and this is the day the trotro preacher-cum-Seller of the elixir of life decides to educate us on how his book and pills solves all our problems, from emotional through Spiritual to… diarrhea?

With nothing to drown him out besides violence, I had JUST waited for him to leave when next came his contemporary from the North.

It’s Islam now. But the message is the same, tablets, a pamphlet written by him (of course; that’s how you know it works) and another ten minutes of rambling on and on.

This is a trotro station.
“60 trotros could have been called on, but mine was chosen”… Or something to that effect.

But wait.
What’s this? Just as the bus is pulling out, the woman in the row directly in front of me has stood up and turned around.

Say it isn’t so! Now SHE’s going to preach too!

And it gets worse. Mary Poppins sings….