This is a common response I get when I talk to people in Canada about my time/work in Ghana . While I was on the bus during my month of traveling in the Northern Region, I was reflecting on this.
Here’s a few maps to give an image to the names I’ll be mentioning (but if you look it up on google you can see the road lines):
In the Northern Region, pariculalry in the eastern districts like Nanumba North (Bimbila) and South, East Mamprusi, Bunkprugu-Yunyoo, Saboba Cherepone, and East Gonja their some roads that you wouldn’t even consider roads back home. There is no way I can represent them in a positive light, they are down right horrible roads, some of the very worst in Ghana. My EWB friend Mina, who lives in Saboba, even says that the government should be ashamed of themselves (http://zikomoafrica.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/the-road-to-tanamo/) and I agree. As I was traveling them I would stop and think about how I could describe them to someone in Canada, someone who may complain about how the city should re-pave a road with a few minor pot-holes. The best I could come up with was these few examples: think of the worst old wood rail road tracks you’ve ever driven over and had to slow right down, now picture having to drive over 4 or more of these back to back with no space in between and then imagine having these large sets of tracks every 10m or so; OR imagine being on a 4wheeler or 4×4 up in northern Ontario in the bush, on a trail, with rocks and unven terrain, going up and down hills having to crawl over some parts because they are so rough. Now imagine riding on either of these 2 paths I just described for 100-200km, in a very crowded and dirty/dusty bus, in the heat of summer. And when the bus finally arrives after you’ve been waiting for maybe 2-4 hours because it is late, you have to run up to as it stops and assert yourself among the crowd of people shoulder to shoulder so that you will hopefully secure a ticket for the driver before it fills up.
Now I was riding the bus at night on my way from Walewale (West Mamprusi) to Bunkprugu-Yunyoo, and luckily I got a seat, or rather luckily I was white and therefore received undeserving privilege and status: when the bus arrived a man with some prominence informed the bus driver where I was going then the driver gave me a ticket as I was in the crowd of people trying to get on. Thankfully everyone was able to board but a number of them had to stand, needless to say I wasn’t one of them. In the isle of the bus where people stood, there was also people’s belongings and luggage. So as the paved road was left behind we continued on some very rough roads. At times I thought the bus would tip over when it shook from side to side passing through dips in the road carved out from the rains, and as the bus shook from side to side people standing would temporarily lose their balance half fall onto the person sitting next to them, that person being me on several occasions. Physical personal space is a luxury and cultural construct that we have back home, like most people don’t feel very comfortable being pressed up against or too close to people, for instance I always find it amusing sitting on the bus or train and the uncomfortable look on peoples’ faces when they notice there are no more 2-seat spots available and they are forced to sit beside someone. But as I was on the bus I thought how crazy this bus ride seems, how bad the road is, how crowded and chaotic this bus ride is, and then I thought again about the “life changing experience”, the “eye opening experience”.
That is one way to view my experience on the buses and road of Northern Ghana, but I would often remind myself that I chose to be here, and on those buses I was sure that I was the only person who made that choice and who would describe it as a “life changing experience”. I’m sure that some if not most people on the bus would refer to it as a Wednesday. I kept thinking that most people on those buses don’t have a choice, if they want to travel from point A to point B this is the only means of transport on the only main road in whatever shape it is in. This isn’t an interesting, eye opening, life changing experience – this is peoples’ daily lived realities. This is life in the Northern Region of Ghana. And it’s not easy.