The trotro driver was travelling a bit too fast on the dusty road in his attempt to beat the traffic. I’d never been on this route before. The bumps on the path all seemed worth it when I saw the morning traffic jam we were avoiding at Shiashie. I could do without the dust, but then, I’ve seen worse.
Welcome to the Nkwanta District in the Volta Region, where I did my National Service. Before late 2006, I never even knew it existed. By mid-2007, I was familiar with every stop from Hohoe to Kpassa, the latter being very close to the Northern Region. Ghana had called.
The Hohoe station was like any other in Accra. Hawkers were selling the same things, mates were screaming locations into the air, and commuters looked just as confused. I located the Nkwanta-bound Mercedes Benz 507 trotro, the same type that runs the Circle-Agege route. But where was everyone? Only one lady eating bread in the backseat, a frail-looking man in the middle and a few others were seated.
It was a long wait. I usually don’t trust my belly enough to handle food during long journeys. An hour passed. The car still wasn’t full. The aisles and spaces under the seats were stuffed with as much luggage as could fit. Leg-room was non-existent. Why were there middle-seats in the car? I thought they had been abolished. Another hour and I was getting desperate. I was going to a place I’d never heard of in my life and this slow filling up was getting me jumpy. I wanted to stand outside, but the sun was baking. Starving and hot, I decided to slumber a bit in the trotro.
The mate started yelling for us to go, though there was next to nobody in the car. Apparently, the last ticket had just been sold. Finally. Now, the passengers had to be rounded up, wherever they were. Goods had to be packed into the boot. It was another twenty minutes before the engine coughed to a start and we were on our way, black smoke following us. After only a few minutes the man on the front middle seat got up. The last thing I needed was a station pharmacist to dramatize the amazing powers of his wonder drug. I was grateful that his sales pitch was in Ewe. My calf muscles were turning numb, and we weren’t even far from our point of origin! Maybe sleep would dull the pain. As soon as I closed my eyes the drug peddler switched to Twi. I refused to stay awake to watch him rub his ointment on his tongue, and forced sleep to overpower me.
I wasn’t sure what woke me up. The loud clanging parts of the car? The bumpiness of the rough road? It was like I was in a different trotro. Why was everyone dressed so strangely? Men wore scarves and women had sweaters on. In this sweltering heat?! Soon, I began to find out. Billows of dust blew like a sandstorm into our faces. My hair was turning brown. Still, the windows remained wide open. We’d all rather be dirty than suffocate from the oxygen shortage and the heat. And dirty I was. I made a mental note to buy a hat when I got to the next stop.
By the time we reached Nkwanta, I couldn’t feel my legs. Yet, my journey wasn’t over. Red dust hung in the air like a cloud. I made my way to the Peugeot 504 going to Kpassa. It was just like the ones that go to Korle-Bu, only more banged-up. I let out a groan of frustration when I discovered that I was the first passenger. With no sites worth exploring to while away time, I sat and sulked. I’d cleaned a nice round portion of the seat. My handkerchief instantly turned red. Those who saw looked at this poor city boy with a mixture of pity and amazement.
After another eternal wait, we were crammed like cattle: four at the back, four in the middle and two in the front. That’s a whole three more than I was used to. Worse, I didn’t even get to sit on my cleaned patch.
The trip to Kpassa was unbearably uncomfortable. While the car repeatedly banged into the road, human beings bounced off one another. I noticed the electricity poles didn’t continue far into the journey with us. This was it. I was headed off to scout my home for the next few months.
By the time we reached Kpassa I was spitting dust and feared I’d suffer sunstroke. This was my baptism of fire. More like a baptism of dust. I already missed the worst traffic Accra had to offer.