Monday, March 21, 2011

Ode to the Lorry Park

I’m on the road between Boso and Kpong, in the region of Frankadua somewhere.  The lorry I was on has run out of petrol, so there is going to be some delay, I suppose.  These lorries are quite an experience.  They’re not much more than an old pickup truck with a shell over the bed, and two benches running lengthwise down the two sides of the bed.  Apparently each bench is supposed to fit six people, but somehow they manage to squeeze 7 or 8 per side – and 6 is uncomfortable enough!  The shell over the bed is usually open at the sides, with wooden slats providing some protection, and natural air conditioning, provided the lorry is moving, which this one is not.  It goes without saying that there are no seatbelts, but wedged in with eleven Ghanaians I doubt we’re going too move too much in an accident.  I make light, but in reality this sort of travel is extremely dangerous and accident prone.  Crashes are common and the results are usually deadly. 

One rides in these lorries facing the people opposite yourself, and there is no “personal space” whatsoever.  Your sweaty nasty arms and legs are in direct contact with your neighbor’s significantly less sweaty arms and legs for the duration of the trip.  I say significantly less sweaty because by and large the Ghanaians are much more used to the heat than I.  Also it is usually the case that there is no room for luggage, so you end up riding with your backpack on your lap, which actually makes for a nice pillow should you feel the need to take a nap.  It is altogether stuffy and claustrophobic.  Periodically on longer trips the lorry will make a random pit stop on the side of the road so passengers can relieve themselves.  Even if you don’t think you need to do so, you’re best advised to go anyway, because as the white guy you have no clue when the next stop is going to be. 

Our stranded lorry was full but now that we’re stopped because of the fuel situation opposite me now are only two people.  The other four are out of the lorry, stretching their legs while the mate (driver) gets petrol (gas).  Now the truck is filling up with passengers again – they must have found petrol.   On to Kpong!

Kpong – it’s about eight in the morning now.  The lorry just barely made it, with many stops and stalls – not one of my better trips to Kpong.  I’ve left the lorry and have transferred to a gigantic bus – well compared to the lorry it’s quite large – waiting for it to fill up and then we’re all off to Accra, the big capital. 

The lorry park in Kpong is pretty small and tame compared to the ones in Accra and Kumasi, but there’s still a fair amount of activity going on.  There are many lorries and vans, all painted right colors and many with strange slogans painted upon them.  I saw some good ones today: “Lagos Boy”, “By All Means”, and “Ringo!”  are particularly good.  “By All Means” is a popular slang term in Ghana, roughly meaning “yes” but really meaning “no”.  Me:  “Will you have fresh bananas tomorrow?”  Market lady:  “By all means!”  I may as well ask for a bag of chee-to’s.  The answer, and the result, will be the same.

Rushing about and between these named autos are women with various edibles for sale resting upon their heads.  They come right up to the side of the lorries and buses, and you can reach out and grab what you want to eat from the tops of their head.  They take your money and give you change all without having to remove their cranium-supported stores.  It’s very impressive.

There are many food items for sale, seemingly all at once.  Bread is for sale here, “tea bread” specifically, which is quite enjoyable.  The ladies at the Kpong lorry park also sell something called “one-one-thousand”, which is a small plastic bag containing tiny shrimp or something.  I’m not sure if I’m supposed to eat it or take it home and pretend they’re a little civilization of mermaids and mermen.  Here also one can get crayfish, since Kpong is on the Volta River, and very near Lake Volta.  Also available are fried dough, kenke, eggs, oranges, and bananas.   
And of course, ice water, a personal favorite of mine.  It comes in very non-reusable little plastic bags, always carried by young girls who cry out at the top of their lungs, “iiiiiice watah!! iiiiiiiiiiiiiiice watah!!”  I think they take a correspondence class on how to do this, they all do it exactly the same way.  And since we’re nearer the capital, a rare treat; young men carrying coolers on their heads, selling an ice cream-like substance called “fan ice”.  Fan ice is pretty much heaven on a stick.  Or in a factory-sealed pouch. 

Now in general us volunteers are strongly advised not to eat too much (or none at all) of this “street chop”.  The iiiiiiice watah in particular is perilous to one’s health.  Although on the other hand we are also told that when choosing between getting dehydrated and potentially getting sick from the water, to go ahead and choose the water.  And besides, I’m already sick right now, that’s why I’m heading down to the capital, so, you know, how much worse can it get? 

The women hawking food all cry out what they’re selling all at once and make themselves generally obtrusive and loud.  The lorry park is crowded with huge robust strong market women in batik dresses, scrawny little business men in grey suits, babies and small children, and chickens darting every direction, looking for scraps of food falling from the enormous bowls of kenke and rice.  Also one can buy sticks for firewood, much smaller sticks for chewing and cleaning one’s teeth, and enormous cocoyams the size of a Sycamore tree root.  And now something a little unusual; a man comes by selling books – books?  Well, 30-page paperback stories, really nothing like Michener here.  This guy actually gets inside of the bus and LOUDLY starts proclaiming the virtues of owning these stories.  As a passenger on the bus I feel like he’s violating my sacred “hawker-free” zone here.  Outside of the bus, fine, get in my face, sell me bags of tiny shrimp and giant yams all you like.  Inside my bus I fell like I deserve a respite from this carnival of capitalism.  So I won’t buy his little books even though I actually really want to; there’s probably some really interesting and bizarre stuff in there.  But I have my code of honor, and he’s broken it, so I refuse to acknowledge him, much less buy anything from him.

Well now the bus has filled, and we will be heading off to Accra soon.  This is a non-stop bus so this is my last chance to buy some street chop for the long ride to the big city. iiiiice?  Maybe next time.

1 comment:

  1. yes, the Ghanaian ladies in the top-most picture were not happy with me for taking that picture of them. Don't take photos without permission in Ghana!!