Bus routes have their own unique cultures. On some, like mine, getting in is a fierce battle, where you have to pit yourself against a hoard of desperados who have tossed manners and politeness to the dogs. I’ve seen heads mashed between hips, and spectacles ripped off faces. I’ve even seen men’s horseshoes (or torkin) separating from the soles of their shoes, exposing the nails that could have been the source of injury to one unfortunate person, never mind the embarrassment to the shoes’ owner. Other routes have travelling preachers trying to win another lost soul for the Lord.
After a trip to the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital I caught a large Mercedes Benz 508. We waited agonizingly for every seat to be filled before sputtering along. Within seconds a man got up, occupying the first row seat. A medicine peddler? Spot on.
Fortunately, these self-styled doctors are not part of the culture of my regular route. Usually, the seller pulls out a small bulging paper packet from a bag that has seen better days. There is always an air of confidence about them. This man went straight to the point, explaining that he had been in the business for almost twenty years. There was no pain his drug could not heal, and thereupon he passed round a tube of his cream for everyone to squeeze a blob. We were all asked to rub it on any aching parts. He told story after story of people who had suffered for years from chronic pain until he saved them from a life of hurt. And there were jokes too. In between tales he would assure us that this was a one-time-only rock bottom price. It did the trick. He sold the whole batch before bringing out a second wonder drug from his well-travelled bag of tricks.
These are a special breed. They go into the minutest detail extolling the virtues of the medicines they sell. They heal various ailments, depending on whether this one tablet is taken with coffee, honey, Coca Cola or lime juice. No hospitals, no ignorant doctors. They possess within their grasps the solution to diabetes and hypertension, skin rashes, halitosis and insomnia. Powders, liquids or soaps; swallow, use as an enema or apply as a balm, your healing is just a Cedi or three away. Money flies out of women’s garments like bats out of a cave. Perhaps I only imagine it, but I think I see a glimmer in the seller’s eye each time. Silver-tongued salesmen, that’s what they are.
More often than not, these street pharmacists ask for testimonies. A man in his mid-fifties got one person who had used his concoction before. He descended on her like she was a criminal, shouting with a booming voice that could wake the dead, “Maame, disgrace me here in front of all these people! When you used my medicine, did it work or not?” I wish he had asked me.
In my experience, I have noticed that they leverage upon a common symptom of what could be an ailment or a discomfort. A peddler I encountered asked if anyone had an itchy throat. Someone would have to be really desperate to have been convinced by that. Either that or the pharmacist was even more desperate to make a sale. Anything from soaps to dewormers to near-expired multivitamins are cures for itching after bathing, depending on who you listen to. A host of diseases are attributed to what they insist is dirty phlegm; in the waist, of all places. I was disgusted the first time I heard that. Now, I think I’m immune to shock from anything I hear from them.
However, the one that is sure to prick the ears of most listeners is a promised boost in sexual performance. Some can be very explicit in their sales pitch. Luckily for most buyers, these medicines promise to cure a wide range of unrelated ailments. One man asked, “Did you say it can cure sasabro as well? Can I get five for a friend of mine who …” Rheumatism indeed. His shifty eyes made me suspicious.
What have been your experiences sitting in these trotro pharmaceutical presentations? Have people seemed too eager to get a quick fix to their medical problems, hoping to avoid sitting in queues and remaining at the mercy of medical personnel?
Before we reached Circle, the medicine man of nearly two decades’ experience hopped into another trotro to bring relief to another batch of potential patients. I wonder what would happen if he attempted to make a sale to irate commuters on my regular route after our daily struggle. Perhaps, he would need a dose of his own medicine more than he could ever imagine.