The music of the city

So here I was, hardly rested from the weekend’s exertions and caught in the belly of the traffic jam that snaked its way from Opeibea House to Ridge one nasty Monday morning. It was hot and humid, thanks to the previous night’s rains. Though it was only a few minutes past eight, I felt unbearably sticky. The smoke being coughed out of the Benz 207 next to us – seeping in through the two tiny holes in my firmly shut window – completed my torture. The traffic monster merely slithered along.

Then, just what I needed: a red light at Flagstaff House.

The lights had turned green for no more than a second before the orchestra behind us let loose a symphony of honking. As there was only about enough space for three cars to go, anyway, this was hardly the reaction I expected.

From my cramped position in the backseat, I turned to see the owner of the Hyundai ix35 directly behind us, his hand glued to his horn. It was only the first day of the official working week, yet he had the haggard look of a man who works from Sunday to Sunday. The horns only grew louder when our engine stalled. The irritated driver behind us was by now waving his arms in fury. I worried about his health. It was like everyone behind us up to the 37 Military Hospital was releasing their frustration on us.

Like werewolves in a full moon, it’s almost as if green lights turn drivers into ravaging maniacs. They’re all in a rush to go somewhere. Or nowhere. They seem to have little patience for waiting for even the slightest moment. Perhaps, you can’t blame them. Maybe everyone feels everyone needs a bit of a jolt in traffic. After all, I’ve heard of drivers falling asleep behind the wheel in front of red lights. Or maybe it’s as a result of the culture from school, where we were ruled by bells.

I don’t know who the worse offenders between trotro and taxi drivers are. Taxi drivers tend to be quite annoying sometimes. I remember taking a walk last week at 4:30am because I couldn’t sleep anymore, much to my annoyance. Of course, I was the only person walking along the street at such an ungodly hour. Cars would zoom by way above the speed limit every minute or two.

Far behind me, I heard short honks at short intervals. “Pesky taxis,” I muttered in displeasure to myself without looking. It got closer, still punctuating my thoughts. Obviously, the honking was directed at me, and in the stillness of dawn, I had already heard it a long way out. I would think that if I was looking for a taxi at that time of day, I’d be standing, not walking, and I’d have motioned him before he even got close. I was glad to see the back of him.

But then, it’s just what taxi drivers do. Their honking in short spurts only grates my ears. One day, uncharacteristic of me, I took a dropping from North Kaneshie to Korle-Bu. I couldn’t help it. I was just too late to go trotro searching and agonizingly watch us grind to a halt at every bus stop. Now, this taxi driver, with me sitting in the backseat, was still tapping his horn every three seconds. Rather than find it irksome, I found it quite amusing. It could be that the poor man had had so little business all day, it had become habit.

Trotro drivers, on the other hand, are just generally in a hurry to beat the next trotro a few metres ahead of them. Shoving their way around Accra, they have a hand out for the horn, some of which are an improvised button placed beside the steering wheel. Others horns are activated by windscreen wipers.

One evening, I was caught in rush hour at Obetsebi-Lamptey Circle. Reasoning was a scarce commodity, and only the brave made it through. All of a sudden, I heard three loud bangs. My heart stopped. It took me a few seconds to discover that it was our driver hitting the side of his own Benz 507. If it was meant to alarm everyone and send them into paralysis, I think it worked. Make it through the madness, by any means necessary.

With horns, it’s a one-size-fits-all. Calling someone, porrr! Frightening someone, porrr! Giving someone space in your lane, porrr! Forcing someone out of your lane, porrr! Yet, with each honk, depending on length, the message is clear, from different pitched horns to those that play a tune. Most visitors to Ghana are surprised that we play to the horn. For me, it’s a gentle reminder, wanted or unwanted, that I’m home.


About Kwaku Dankwa

By day, I'm an advertising copywriter. That's what I've done all my working life (National Service doesn't count). Husband of Esther, father of Jesse and twin boys Mark and Andrew, and servant of Christ. I previously wrote a blog on the dramatic side of public transport in Accra, "The Daily Commute: From Bridge to Ridge." Enjoy.
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18 Responses to The music of the city

  1. Abby says:

    ‘the language of horns’ It’s really interesting how everyone understands what the other person is saying and they act accordingly.

  2. pls dont forget the spacebuses at circle. The horn is a wire attached to the wheel. The driver taps it to sing

  3. Raj says:

    Nice choice of words to describe this very irritating attitude of drivers and especially commercial drivers. I remember taking a dropping one time and after i sat the driver kept honking as if he was still looking for passengers. So i asked why and his explanation was that “it was feeling” or better “feeling dey inside” which i did not understand and never have bothered to understand.

    One time also, my car stopped when i was negogiating a curve in Osu around the Presbyterian Church and within seconds all i heard was shoutings and tooting of horns with all sorts of chorus. I did not give a care in the world, but only focused on getting my car started and move because after all i did not move my car from my house just to stop in the middle of the road.

    well done Kwaks

  4. Tetekai says:

    The horns are irritating. It has become a habit and there have been occasions whereby the mate cheers the driver on to display is hooting skills. Hmmm
    As for taxi drivers; the less said, the better; when i pick a dropping and the driver starts hooting at everything and nothing, i ask irritatingly, ‘so what does the horn do for you?’
    There is too much noise and the vehicles ain’t helping
    Great post, Kweku.

  5. Kwadjo Dankwa says:

    We just love the sound of the horn. i remember once, whilst stuck in traffic, the car infront of us stalled. As the poor lady driver, (who was by now panicking) tried to get her car started, an irritated passenger sitting next to the driver obviously late for work barked at the driver. Hey, blow your horn and let her start moving. The words of wisdom that came out of the trotro drivers mouth, I believe I will never hear again. He simply replied, “Will blowing my horn make her car start?”. Oh if only all drivers had such wisdom.

  6. Yohan Odonkor says:

    Irritating… irritating… IRRITATING!!!

    I hate the honking with a passion.! A means of communication?!!! …use your mouth, ah!!! I jus’ for the love of God cannot figure out who on earth degraded us [humans] to horn-responding objects… ’tis insulting, and painful. It hurts my soul every time I hear a honk or a “ssssssssssssss…” directed at me. As much as i enjoy jus’ walking off, it really stabs me in the heart, that you’d prefer that to “excuse me sir/broda/sista”.

    Sometimes [though i don’t agree to it] it helps for stubborn and irritating drivers, but when it’s always and at everyone in anger, fury, and raised voices… it’s a very loathsome thing!!! Sometimes, i’m honestly tempted to jus’ turn around, and let loose my thoughts, but then realisinig i’d jus’ be like ’em… i shut-up and go my way.

    I love the part about the three loud bangs the driver made that almost caused the passengers to have immediate paralysis… they do scare the life outta us sometimes.!

    • Kwaku Dankwa says:

      Speaking of the hissing, I went to buy koko once. A few steps away, someone stated hissing in my direction. Knowing very well that they were aimed at me, I said to myself, “I so know you’re not calling me like that!” After a few hisses, I heard the guy say, “Ei, braa!” I turned, quite a distance from the koko seller. Apparently, they’d given me the wrong order. The long walk back … wasn’t fun.

  7. McAphui says:

    its a love – hate affair when it comes to the music of the city…love it when you are not in a hurry to get to your destination and hate it when other drivers feel they are major sheer holders of the road. The best seat to grab is the front seat, and its fun when you see drivers itching to push that customized button used to blow a horn.
    Reminds me of an incidence where a horn was blown in traffic and every driver started giving way thinking it was some articulated truck coming, only to realise it was a VW beetle.

  8. dannie says:

    I’m reminded of the days when my dad would toot his horn to that song “Nanka Ebeye Den” his favourite part was wuso koraa no na me ye ne moree moree oo oo. And he tooted his horn so well that i’m sure other drivers knew exactly what song it was that was playing in our car. Good times, good times!

  9. RAY JAY says:

    Lol…you were worried about his health ?..interesting Kwakes, an annoying occurrence captured in a pretty funny way.

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