Thursday, May 21, 2009

Filling Stations, Tro-Tros, Chinese in Ghana

This is a filling station, not far from the Cultural Centre in Kumasi. It's an example of many that are popping up. They are very large, containing many stores like a mini-mall. Their glass structures stand out amongst the many concrete buildings. Oil was recently discovered off the coast of Ghana, maybe a year and a half ago it was announced in the news. The government quickly said that they will use the resouces to the benefit of all. This probably due to the troubles in the Nigeria Delta where the riches from oil production are not benefitting most of the people in the region.

This is where I'm typing right now. It's about 30 minutes from the village I live in, Adugyama. Kwame, a friend of Doris's first took me here, and it's the fastest internet cafe I have found in the area. The ones in Kumasi were much slower than here. Kwame and Doris both know the owner of this filling station and I had lunch with him one day. He lived in Germany for many years. He said the new addition (left in the photo) will be a Chinese language school. His wife does international trading and goes to China often.

The Chinese are very active in Ghana. They are doing joint partnerships with Ghana on road construction. On the road I travel on to Kumasi, I see advisors working on its expansion. I also have seen Chinese/advisors on the expansion of the highway north of Accra. There is a book that was making the news here in March called Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo. She has degrees from Oxford and Harvard. She argues that aid has actually been detrimental to Africa and the business/partnership approach such as what China is doing is a better approach.

At Star Oil, there is also a grocery market, an MTN phone office, and a restuarant. I usually eat Jolof rice(fried rice), chicken, and a salad along with a Star beer.

Originally uploaded by Daniel Kerkhoff

This is a tro-tro. It is the primary way I get around and it's inexpensive. Kwame explained to me that the lowest pesewa is called a tro-tro, basically a penny. And it usually costs pennys to get from place to place, thus the name. The vans I see mostly are Nissan vans. They can get fourteen passengers in, not counting the driver, the "mate" (coin collector), or children.

The "mate" operates the van door, will chant the names of the destinations alerting people on the sides of the road. He often sounds like an auctioneer and it took me awhile to get used to the chanting. Abuakwaabaukwaabuakwa was what I would listen for. Or when I was staying in Kumasi studying batik at the Culture Center, I would listen for Santasisantasisantasi. This was where I went to for the night, my teachers residence.

Hand signals are also used. In Accra, I often would go to Nkrumah Circle, also called Accra Circle, or just Circle. The hand jesture I would look for from the tro-tro would by an index finger pointing down and making a circle. The chant would often be Circcirccirccirc.

When I was staying at Lincoln School and needed to get to Kumasi, the tro-tros would be going to Kejetia Market. The hand signal used would be an index finger pointing upwards and jabbing upwards.

If a tro-tro is not full, the driver would beep his horn and he or his mate will make a hand gesture with the hand open and upward going in a twisting manner, saying which way you heading? I often mouth the name of the city and they would stop. If it's the next place coming up, I will often make a gesture pointing downward and that's sufficient.

Originally uploaded by Daniel Kerkhoff

I've had to wait a long time for a tro-tro and sometimes it gets competetive getting into one. In some cases, I'll opt for a taxi. A shared taxi is cheaper and fills with usually four other people. A drop taxi is one you take by yourself and I've hardly taken that one. Oftentimes I might wait inside of a parked tro-tro until it gets filled up. I've only had to wait 20 minutes or so, but I've heard it can be hours in some remoter places.

I like the tro-tros. It's not the safest way to get around, but when you're packed in with so many other people, there can be a community experience, an intimacy. Some of my favorite moments in Ghana have been looking out the windows of a tro-tro at the beautiful, lush countryside--trees, plantains, fields of green, maize, and rocky hills. When there's some nice African music, it doesn't get any better. Oftentimes, there's talk radio in Twi. It sounds similar to talk radio in the States, often very loud and constant.

Friday, April 17th: From Adugyama to Kumasi. This morning there were 4 goats stuffed into the back end. I was near the back and one of the passengers was complaining about the goats nipping them or hoofing them in the heels. The owner who looked like he came from the north because he had on a moslem like scarf gently moved to the back so that a woman complaining could be further from the goats.

Between Accra and Kumasi, I've taken the government buses called STC and also the O&A buses. They're similar to Greyhound. A 5-6 hour trip between Kumasi and Accra costs 10 cedis on STC buses and 9 cedis on O&A buses. They show movies during the trip, usually Nigerian movies because they're in English and are entertaining. I watched one that was about a father an son, called Ibu and his son. The father is a mechanic and his son is usually getting into all sorts of trouble. They make for a comical pair. I watched a horror movie based on African witchcraft about a young woman defying her father and going to a party. A demon comes and haunts them and kills them off one by one. There was another movie where a woman is tired of the way men can marry more than one woman. She ends up courting three men and gets three marriage proposals from them. In the end, they find out what she's up to and play a trick on her.

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