Monday, March 3, 2008

Driving Madam (Crazy)

Before I embark upon this Discourse, I would like to make a small disclaimer, in that all statements and opinions are given from the point of view of Passenger/Back Seat Driver/Lady What Lunches (etc.). What, me, drive?! Pah! Although, I do sometimes think being in the right-hand seat (the one without the steering wheel, to clarify for all my cross-continental readers) can be a darn site more frightening.

Maybe the best place to start is with the roads. One of the most important factors in development, they tell us, having a decent network of good roads in order to get around easily, safely, and quickly.

In Ghana, the roads vary from being newly surfaced, smooth, well drained, and white lined – to dirt tracks with half-metre deep craters across half the width – and literally everything in between. Around Kumasi, you get some roads which are paved, then a bit further along, some potholes will have developed, a bit further the potholes have taken up half the road, and a little further along you think you are bumping along a road that has never seen an inch of tarmac… and then you spot a small sliver of grey, and realise that that 10cm wide, metre long strip is all that remains of what was once a perfectly smooth road.

As you can imagine, the potholes which are found in most roads do add a certain amount of interest to the journey. If they are mild, or you are on a busy road and so the driver Deems it best to drive straight over them, well, you best have packed your hardhat. (A lesson I have learnt: always use the toilet before you leave. The seatbelt jerking in your bladder area Whilst you are being shaking around like a jelly at the same time do not make for a pleasant trip). If potholes are particularly bad, or you are on a road with little traffic coming the other way, the driver may decide the best method of attack is to swerve dramatically from left to right around the holes, choosing the path of least resistance. HowSoEver, as you can imagine, if a driver from the Other direction has chosen the same tack, you are in a Situation. Many a time we have been heading directly towards a vehicle, coming head on, full speed, and as I am screwing up my eyes and uttering an almost-audible plea to the good Lord, either we or the oncoming Transportation swerves in the nick of time back to the correct side of the road.

There are many road projects going around Ghana at the moment. This in itself adds to the excitement. At first you think ‘wow, they are actually doing something with this terrible section of road’. But, as I used to say to my mum when she would ask me why I hadn’t tidied my room, things have to get worse before they get better. And worse they are, for months. And months. They dig up the half-road that was there, and you are driving along laterite (the orangey clay which makes up most of Ghana!) roads. Which is fine for a while, but they don’t hold up for long. And then the works companies stockpile their sand/cement/aggregates actually On the roads, some one side, some another, so driving past them is rather like a slalom run, the width of one vehicle only. Read earlier for Passing Something Coming The Other Way!

On the bigger road works, they will employ guys to stand at either end and act as temporary traffic lights. This sometimes involves the use of red and green flags, sometimes merely a hand gesture, where upside-down wiggle of the hand means something entirely different from a right-way-up wiggle of the hand, and I am very glad I am not driving, because I cannot tell the difference! Sometimes, they have a guy in the middle communicating to his colleagues at either end what is going on. The effectiveness of this is debatable. I think one of my scariest moments was sitting halfway along a stretch of roadworks, in the middle of the road, half on paved road, half on laterite, with a heavy stream of traffic coming at us on one side, and a huge piece of Construction Equipment coming at us on the other…

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Unwritten Rules

A story from a few weeks ago...

I had to giggle today at this weird Ghanaian Hierarchy. We went shopping, my driver and I, for a few bits for the houses. It seems I am not allowed to carry Anything; once or twice if I've snarled enough and Glared at the person trying to take things off me, I have been Permitted to carry a small plastic bag with a couple of toothbrushes in it. It seems, however, that my driver can carry nothing more than about the size of an ironing board, and we have to find (and pay for) a labourer to carry the mattress I had bought (who slung it on his head and proceeded to take out everyone within a 4 foot radius of himself in comedy slapstick style).

Why I couldn't have carried the ironing board, Duku the mattress and saved the 15 minute wait for labourer (and 1 Ghana cedi although that equates to about 50p its hardly a problem), I Do Not Know.

Lunch and Language

I first wrote this Observation On Life in December, but dammit, it makes me giggle still, so I thought I'd share... with a small Add-on!

So. I am in Accra and my friend Kwaku* just took me out for lunch. At a 'chop spot'. I.e. a small shack with those garden screen things for walls and woven beach mats for a roof. And plastic chairs.

And I had rice and veg stew. Which was fine. And he had fufu. Fufu is plantain and cassava boiled and then pounded so you get a lump of what looks like raw pastry but its altogether more sticky and blander. And a bit gritty. And that sits in a bowl of soup (well sauce or gravy I guess) with (on this occasion) lumps of various bits of goat. And you get a bowl of water with it with which to Wash your hands. And then you launch in. pick bits of the fufu off with fingers. Or knuckles in this case. Face close to bowl so you don't get it all down your shirt. And you also get a bottle of washing up liquid to mop yourself up with after wards.

I asked him if they had anything special for Christmas, and he said, no, just usual food. And I got the giggles thinking of my family in England sat around our Christmas dinner table with crackers and the like tucking into a bowl of fufu and goat. And couldn’t stop giggling. Especially with the likes of 'While Shepherds watched...' playing over the stereo as we ate.

*So Wednesday born. Only he's not. He’s named after his uncle. My driver's called Duku which means eleventh born. But he's not. He’s named after his father. Who is eleventh born. Oh and ever wondered what happened if you have two babies born on the same day of the week? Don’t worry, you just add an 'again'. 'Obaa'**. So if your first and second girls are both born on Thursdays, never fear, the first is Yaa, the second Obaa Yaa. So simple. Why didn’t we think of that?

** Only this week (Feb 08), we saw a tro-tro with 'Obaa Pa' on the back of it (that's another story entirely) and I asked the very same driver what that meant and he said 'very beautiful lady'. Now I know 'pa' is 'very', or 'lots', so 'Obaa' must be lady. Who knows? This little Story highlights the Challenges one faces in Communication...

I think I need Twi lessons.