Every morning, my route takes me past the mini-station at 37. Usually, it’s a chaotic mess caused by drivers selfishly blocking the entrance. There are also opportunistic cabbies ready to make a killing off a commuter who must have overslept and may desperately require a direct ride to work. Another fixture is the newsstand. Around it congregates an ever-present crowd representing all walks of society, from the barely literate to sharply dressed young bankers. Here, the newspapers scream headlines to attract passers-by, ranging from the sensational to the sordid. Or the downright gruesome.
Hundreds of newsstands may be scattered all over the capital, but the scene remains the same. During the heat of the election campaign of 2008, I found myself drawn to one such stall. I thought it was too early for people to be arguing, but two middle-aged men were having a go at each other. They were as opposite in stature as their entrenched political stances, one exposing his massive beer belly, the other with collarbones as prominent as a hangman’s noose. Upon reading a headline, a reader standing in front of the stand asked a casual question. That was all they needed for hell to break loose. They both furiously attacked, drawing their swords to hack the two leading political parties in Ghana. The poor young man’s fake smile betrayed his pretence at being interested in this tirade as the argument heated up. In reality, he probably regretted speaking up.
Just as it looked like the fists would take over, one of them asked out of the blue whether they should eat kenkey or beans for breakfast. I prepared to walk away from the whole farce. These were friends, part of the unchanging gang that was there yesterday and today and will be there tomorrow and the day after. It’s in places like this that the regulars can spend the whole morning reading all the newspapers from cover to cover, interspersed with their own roundtable discussions.
I once saw a young man pick up one issue of The Daily Graphic from the table to read a story. After turning two pages, the vendor glared at him and said flatly in Twi, “Master, we’re selling the papers oo. If you won’t buy, put it down for those who will buy to buy.” With a hint of disgust, one of these regulars, chewing stick stuck firmly between his molars, retorted over his copy of Hearts News that these small boys will never buy papers, yet they want to read. Pots and kettles suddenly leapt to mind.
Over the years, editors and publishers have learnt how to hook commuters and bystanders alike, translating into interested readers, and ultimately, sales: the latest thing that Jerry Rawlings has said or done. Every speech is quoted and analyzed differently – depending on the paper’s editorial slant – by journalists for the next few issues. Only his picture is enough to make the masses drool.
However, these talk spots are not a monopoly for these men debating their simple-minded solutions to all of Ghana’s economic woes. School children find their way there as well, a scant minority in search of current affairs for Social Studies lessons. However, I have seen many a student feasting their eyes on the soft core pornography on offer, seeing as a good few newspapers dedicate their front pages to ladies displaying their wares to any who would care for an eyeful. I have also caught the occasional dirty old man having a long look while pretending to be intently reading the first paragraphs of the latest “JJ eyes Kuffuor” type of no-story. I ask myself who is better: these old geezers or the suited men who have stealthily hidden issues of Funtime and Ebony under their regular subscription to the Business & Financial Times.
Next time you find yourself in front of a newspaper stall, though, look out for The Daily Guide. Their cartoonist is the best. Akosua. Everything she draws is always so hilariously reflective of whatever is making news in Ghana.
How about you? Have you seen any strange or funny happenings at your local newsstand? Are there any stubborn debaters you have encountered that you absolutely can’t stand?
My mind goes back to the two men who couldn’t be more different. As I left them, they were busily arguing about what to eat for breakfast. Breakfast. I concluded that these two had nothing else to do and just loved to bicker, no matter what about. Even better if it was about something they read at no personal cost in the newspapers that morning.