I braced myself for the unique stink at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle Station after the day’s rains. Along with the darkness (and the opportunistic pickpockets that come with it), the mucky ground and the bending queues, the last hazard I wanted to wrestle with was the noise. After a day where two weeks’ worth of thinking had just been flushed down the toilet by the client, I craved a soothing piano concerto with a cold drink. Instead, I was to be entreated to the prophetic words of Ebenezer Yahweh of Yudaism Seventh Day. Or something like that.
Unfortunately, the America House lines are parked just in front of this nighttime preacher’s base. By the time I arrived to wait for the trotro, he was in the flow, with his flock gathered around him. I tried to have a look at the man of God, but to no avail. I couldn’t see him over his congregation. On a banner behind him were drawings of what I recognized from children’s bible stories to be biblical characters.
I arrived in time to hear the Lord’s Anointed lambasting English names. “They’re all dedicated to the devil, if you don’t know!” he revealed. Strange. Perhaps it wouldn’t have caught my attention if he hadn’t called out my niece’s name as an example. Not exactly the kind of sermon I need now, I reasoned, as I allowed my thoughts to drift. Suddenly, a shout of “Kwasia” shook me back to the present. His sidekick was in the thick of things, rather than just reading the scriptures and passing comments. The two of them were mimicking two verbally abusive political opponents. It sent the crowd into ripples of laughter. Just in time to whisk me away from this melodrama, I couldn’t have been more pleased to see our getaway trotro approaching.
Day and night, the loud speakers hardly go to sleep in Accra. All over the city, unlicensed sidewalk preachers set up shop at any available spot. However, they’re no match for the roaming pharmacies. From Agraadaa Bitters to the less popular herbal mixes, cars and vans are rigged with enough sound power to shake up a nightclub. It’s like there’s something missing without a bit of noise from one corner or the other.
Take one instance when I went to the Madina Market station. On our way there my head was buried deep in a book I was finally getting round to reading. Trying to beat the trotro behind us to the station, the driver was breaking the speed limit without remorse. My powers of concentration must’ve been at their peak. Soon, we turned off the main road and onto the rough road that led into one of the many stations that made up the Madina station. It was when the mate had casually said, “Last stop!” that it all hit me like a sucker punch. If there was ever a sound for chaos, this was it.
Everything was crying for attention. From a loudspeaker at one end of the station Atumpan was blaring out in less-than-subtle lyrics, “Small girl, you don’t know the thing.” The uncomfortable sound of the grinder’s stone was in direct competition, sharpening the edge of a menacing machete in the middle of the station. And of course, the scene would never be complete without the beat up Datsun, loudly and crudely advertising salvation from impotence and premature ejaculation to any closet sufferers.
Public address systems hoisted on poles were monotonously calling out for passengers, while the mates desperately tried to outdo each other as well. The veins were popping out of one lanky youth’s neck as he shouted, “Last two, come!” He wildly motioned every commuter towards his near-empty car. Cacophony. That’s what this was.
There was a small crowd of mates gathered in a circle in a heated exchange of words. They were vigorously tugging at each other. At first glance, the whole thing reminded me of the last moments that a poor thief caught red-handed would be alive. It turned out that they were arguing over whose turn it was to load passengers. Clearly, civility had been tossed out of the window.
At the heart of it, however, is that we’re very accustomed to the noise all around us. All it takes is for someone to start shouting at some part of a station, and people will find their way there. Just let someone open a bale of oburoni waawu, and multitudes will gather to make their selection of the crumpled second-hand clothing on display.
But then, when someone walks around a station with a bathroom scale shouting for people minding their own business to check their weight, you’re free to conclude that we just enjoy noise. If even just to keep the mundane life interesting.