Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bus to Kumasi

I sat alone in the dark at 5 a.m, gnawing on a baguette that the B&B owner had left out for me (covered in plastic, I mean). He'd also thought to leave a Thermos of hot water and some Nescafe. You know what? This guy rules. Here's his B&B: Case d'Hôtes.

I heard the taxi pull up outside the gate and I was halfway out the door before the security guard could even stand up. On to Ghana!

But first, there was madness at the normally so organized TCV Bus. Several buses were leaving at the same time, so people were everywhere. I watched with interest as all the male customers were patted down, while all the females cruised right onto the bus.

The guy whose ticket I had re-purchased had a seat in the front row. That's too bad, I thought. The front row has no leg room. But then the spare driver, courier (who sits in the jump seat), and steward got on, and they moved me right behind the first driver, where I had a few spots to put my feet. The steward handed out little TCV-branded gateaus to everyone (cake-bus has my loyalty for life), and we were off. I liked that I could see what was happening as we drove along. I could even see that our bus traveled under the protection of a bearded religious guy and a stuffed dog.

I thought back to the last time I'd had this precise seat on a long-distance bus. Late 2005, en route from Lusaka, Zambia, to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. I'd do anything to avoid two days on the TAZARA train again, including sitting on a coach for 30+ hours. I'd seen accidents on the road, a fire, and men carrying a limp man into a makeshift ambulance. Eek.

This was different, though, because we were traveling by day—mostly, though we were scheduled to arrive at 10—and we were on cake-bus where the worst inconvenience was the Nollywood movies were too loud, and because the roads were outstanding. First, the Burkina roads were decent, but then, when we crossed into Ghana--wow! I marveled at the shoulders, the streetlights, the lines painted down the center of the road. Ghana, I adore you.

And then there were rest stops. Honest to good rest stops, with actual toilets instead troughs in cubicles. Though they also had the troughs. Urinals, male and female, are free. Toilets, considered the spot for #2, cost money. You pay an attendant and he gives you paper.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm fine with paying the ten cents for a toilet with running water and a seat, and a place to wash your hands, just to pee. I'm cheap but I'm not THAT cheap.

As I was handing over my coins to the attendant, a male passenger from my bus walked up. He asked if there was a fee and the attendant checked if he had to do a #1 or #2 before proceeding. The passenger looked kind of surprised—and a little embarrassed—then paid. The attendant held out toilet paper, and the passenger visually recoiled.

He motioned to the tea kettle of water he was carrying and turned down the paper. The sign of #2 had been a tea kettle of water before now. Ah, so Ghana was all about toilet paper, then. That's good to know. 

As the hours went on, I could no longer tell the difference between a toll and a bribe. What was required and what was just suggested? I'd once thought that us tourists had been hit up for bribes because we are assumed to be carrying money. But we pay nothing compared to the locals, who pay, pay, pay. What would happen, suggested a friend, if one day everyone in Africa decided not to pay? I doubt we'll find out in my lifetime.

Eventually, the bus steward who was sitting next to me had an animated argument with the spare driver and the courier about Wyclef Jean. Then, to prove his point, he turned to me. "Isn't it true that Wyclef Jean is the President of Haiti?

Poor thing. He was so deflated when I gently told him it wasn't true, that Wyclef Jean hadn't been eligible to run after all. I felt bad enough for him that the next time his head started to roll onto my shoulder, I let him sleep for a bit.

We arrived a little late into Kumasi. Taxi drivers leapt at me in the bus terminal.

"Taxi? You want a taxi? Your hotel is very far away, very expensive ride."

Grinning, I jumped into the fray. English! Now I could battle it out over the fare. I'd missed this.

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