Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cheers to being a good sport about it.

My head is down and I’m wondering why my shoes fit me differently these days. I hop over a puddle of orange-red water and here a hiss thrown in my direction. It’s the trotro I was just waiting to fill at the station: it filled while I was trying to make other arrangements and they took off to find me on the road. I jog across the road even though there isn’t another car in sight and around to the sliding door.

“Kafra, wae. Kafra, wae.” I smile at the man on the other side of the door when he laughs at my Twi apology. The jagged edge of a fold out seat catches my leg as I climb inside and squeeze my kid-sized hips between mom and one very large African gentleman. I look over at her and she laughs in that nervous (terrified) kind of way.

“What? Why?” I stammer.

“Blakey, I was so scared. I kept telling them to let me out but they said ‘no, no.’ I thought I would just end up nowhere with no one. Oh my god, I was so scared.” She laughs and lays her head on our bags piled in her lap.

“Well, it’s okay now. They just knew they would find me on the road. They were looking out for you; you don’t have to worry about being but in harm’s way here. People look out for people.” She was safe and no one would have jeopardized her safety but I know what it’s like to perceive yourself in danger and unsure of where you are and where you are going; it’s an ugly feeling that goes right to your stomach and back up your spine. I would never wish it on anyone.

I gingerly put my arm around her shoulders and look around the van. The phrase “clapped-out death trap” comes to mind and I laugh to myself. Public transportation vehicles become decreasingly whole as you leave the city. This one is by far the most… eclectic I have seen. My tail bone aches and my head is tired. I have nothing else to do so I calculate our time spent (wasted): up at 5:30, at the station at 6:15, car fills at 8:30, arrive at Nkwatan at 12:30, depart for Kpasa at 2:30. First leg of the journey is completed, two more to go.

I am seriously concerned that we won’t reach Bimbilla as we still have an unknown amount of dirt road and two more villages to change cars. Small villages aren’t usually the most equipped in terms of accommodation and I have someone else to think about. Were in just me, I might easily find a friendly Auntie to open up her home and give me a good meal, but that kind of uncertainty isn’t ideal this time. Rather than worrying about nothing I can control, I busy myself trying to understand a boisterous conversation between a group of Twi speaking men in the car; they are talking football so I begin to day dream while fighting for shoulder space with Mr. Large-Man to my right.

Kpada. We hurry off the car and a man points towards a decrepit mini-station wagon circa 1972, “Damanko,” he says, “you go there.” We rush over to the small group standing around the car and I ask the driver the price. “Twenty-two,” he pauses, “but there is a baggage fee, ten thousand per bag.” It has been a long day and I don’t like this guy already. I make the unfortunate decision to flip out.

“One cedi for a bag?! No, no. That is not fair, you don’t charge any of these people half of their fair to carry their hand bags, do you? No, you wouldn’t. Brother, don’t be unfair to me.” I put him on the defensive and there is no going back. I look to the people standing around, “Does he charge you this?” They only smile sheepishly as I stare them imploringly in the eye. I turn back to my new enemy, “Fine, we will keep them on our laps.”

“I don’t care if you carry them on your heads, if you are taking them in the car you must pay. You bring 2 Ghana cedi for the bags.” He says something cheeky to the crown in Twi that I don’t quite catch and turns back to me as he lights a cigarette, “You’re wasting time, I can fill the seats without you.” I glare at him as best as I can. He got me. “Let’s go,” I say and grab the small backpack from mom as I climb in the make-shift third row of seats. An old Muslim man sits quietly and ignores us for the entirety of our time together. I miss him.

In the three hour drive of this leg of our adventure, we have to get out twice while he takes the car through the most intense ruts I have ever seen, and while memory of the road condition still makes my spine weep, the marriage proposals we received upon arrival in Damako make up for it entirely.

“So, you will marry me, then?” Unfazed, I give him the standard reply, “Yes. Make we go now, yeah?” We share a laugh and then I turn away. I have heard this before and have developed favorite strategies, one of which is to ask if they mind being husband #13, and if not we should wed at ONCE! Not to be outdone, though, our fearless driver soon walks up holding the hand of a tall, handsome black man, “This one is for mummy, he is her size I think.” Mother and daughter share glances and erupt in laughter which makes me light headed. You see, we were sitting directly over an open gas tank for three hours and your brain just doesn’t immediately bounce back from such things. Either way, thank you, driver: once an ass; later, not so bad.

Luxury, on this day, had arrived in the form of a cushioned front seat shared by Narrow Hips, part one and two. As we are driven the final stretch, mom asks again if she can take pictures. She asks because I have more than once expressed… annoyance at her photographic tendencies. It is hard for me to be completely comfortable with photographing strangers carrying on in normal order in this Foreigner-Native relationship. It pains me to think that this action would mean to the “native” that I am perplexed and amused by their normalcy, so much so that I want to capture it to show my rich, white friends the oddities of Deepest Africa. Besides, whipping out a $300 camera is contextually inappropriate. “No, please. Just remember it with your mind.” I laugh because while it may sound like a cop out, I am very serious. The sun set that night over the newly green landscape of rainy-season flat land was one of the most staggeringly beautiful images I have retained in my time here. I can still remember the feeling of the cool air that evening, the sound from the diesel engine working hard along the treacherous tundra, and the softened faces of my fellow passengers calmly taking in the scene with us. Sunsets: cross culturally admired since the beginning of time.

Bimbilla. It took 12 hours, about $15, and entirely more bartering than my sleep reserve should have allowed, but we found you, nonetheless. Exhausted we greet you and after a 4 am wake up by the mosque speakers that seemed to be piped right into our small room, we depart under similar conditions to our actual destination: Tamale. The epicenter of The North, as it is casually called by those who don’t reside in its boundaries, awaits us in a matter hours and kilometers and I catch my second consecutive sunset-rise pairing but I’m not one to complain. We buy breakfast from the tops of women’s heads through the window of a minibus and I brood over the guidebook I’ve come to hate. I suppose this is one way to begin another day in sunny West Africa, not for the faint of heart or those prone to being poor sports.

There was also the time mom chased off an attacking baboon with a deck chair, but maybe we can talk about that later...