On my way home from work one early evening, I was dulling my hunger with some tasteless plantain chips. A woman, possibly teenage, was trying in vain to stop her baby from screaming himself hoarse, as the older men twisted their faces in anger at the sudden disturbance of the peace. After all, Fiifi Banson was on air and callers were spilling their guts, admitting their sordid deeds on air. The man to my right on the first seat was squeezing every drop out of the orange he had to his lips. The veins in his arm and neck popped a bit larger with each suck. After one long and rather noisy drag, he absent-mindedly spat seeds onto the floor and went back to work.
Without warning, over the yells of the unhappy baby, over the confessions of the cheating wife on the radio, over the incessant honks from impatient drivers, came a loud shriek from the mate, “Kwasia!” I was stunned. Everyone stopped dead. Even the driver was confused. The mate went on in Twi, venom in his voice, “You think this is a borla, eh?”
Now, this was no trotro of choice by any stretch of the imagination. The edges of the raw metal ceiling were brittle with rust, while the seats rocked back and forth. The floor felt so weak, I thought a gentle stamp would knock the bottom out and leave us sitting smack in the middle of Ring Road Central.
There was no way this man would take this abuse lying down. He quickly pointed out that two seeds in the car were nothing compared to the filth we were uncomfortably seated in. He was right. There was a yoghurt wrapper with teeth marks all over the one ripped corner. One small black polythene bag was swirling around passengers’ feet. A crumpled piece of paper with a few husks of roasted groundnuts was being tossed by the car’s motion. To complete it, a soiled rag was haphazardly tucked into the exposed metal frame of the gate. This car obviously hadn’t seen a broom in days. Weeks? Or since the day it rolled out as a shiny new creation out of the Mercedes Benz factory. Needless to say, nobody was sympathetic towards the mate, by now receiving a torrent of insults from bored commuters. It was like a pack of lions attacking the slowest antelope.
Unfortunately, it’s not just trotros that are covered in grime and suffocating under mountains of rubbish. One walk through any of Accra’s stations and one could easily conclude that all the lessons on hygiene and germs were a myth promoted by producers of cleaning agents. This year, soon after one rain that washed the city of all the accumulated harmattan dust, many a dirty road was covered with polythene bags that had been buried under layers of sand.
These days, inside or out, the unmistakable stench of rubbish is never far off. There have been many times my trotro has had to follow Zoomlion trucks in slow traffic. Once around 37, the air was especially foul. The putrid smell hung like a thundercloud. How the driver and his gang didn’t faint from the gases they breathed remains a wonder. All around me, heads turned in the direction of the smell. Fabrics of all kinds instinctively went to the nose. I probably got a feel of what drowning must feel like, as I gasped, having left my handkerchief on my bed in my haste to beat the rush at Bridge. Another day, I followed a battered garbage collector that leaked a discoloured liquid, leaving a trail of stinky evidence all the way through the traffic. Disgusting.
Whether on the sidewalks or on the edges of roads a heap of rubbish at different stages of decomposition is nearly a constant in most parts of Accra. On some weekends, exuberant youth have congregated in a bid to clear blocked gutters. With sweat glistening off their bare backs, they have scooped the blackened mess to the side of the road, like trophies from war for passers-by to have a long frown at … and to get a good whiff through their nostrils.
The mate with the audacity to insult a passenger was receiving the dressing down of his life. He blankly stared out of the window, pain in his expression. That didn’t stop two young women from making the fight their own. I slowly dabbed my fingers to my lips to get the last bit of salt from my flat plantain chips. I thought to myself, do I drop the plastic bag in the car and risk the mates’ pent-up wrath, or do I drop it out through the window and give Mother Nature a kick up the backside?