Feature Article of Thursday, 3 May 2012
Columnist: Damoah, Nana Awere
Eko Encounters: A Wasa Man in Amalaman - Lagos to Accra By Road
Saturday 28 April
5:30am (Nig Time, GMT+1): At the ABC Transport yard already, at Amuwo Odofin. Today is Sanitation Saturday in Lagos State and no one is supposed to be out of his home between 7 am and 10 am, the time is to be used to clean homes and surroundings. It happens every last Saturday of the month. To beat this restriction, I had to leave the house at 4.40am. My bus is supposed to leave at 7.30am but I suspect we will leave earlier than that because of the aforementioned reasons.
As to whether people respect it or not, that is clear by my being here way ahead of time. As to whether people actually use the time to clean, that isn't clear. I am sure many use it to rest, Facebook or work on their procreation projects. I had a short debate yesterday with some colleagues, Nigerians, at work about its unfairness on travellers like me, but they were passionate about it, and said it is yielding fruits in some areas. I love the current Governor Fashola and think he is doing well; I see signs of improvement in Lagos , so I leave this to his better judgement.
Today is the 6th birthday of our son Nana Kwame Bassanyin. He had asked me earlier this week if I would be at his birthday party. That triggered this arrangement to go to Ghana today, coupled with the fact that I needed to send money to Vivian. Even if I see him for an hour, I will be fine. A parent makes a promise; he/she should keep it. This is, however, a surprise I am gonna spring on him, he doesn't know I am coming.
Happy birthday boy. I will see you hopefully in 10 hours or so.
5:58am (Nig Time, GMT+1): The customer service counters are setting up, and I see an official just opposite where I am sitting. I walk up to his counter and proceed to ask a question. I wanted to enquire whether my bus (due to set off at 7:30am) would leave earlier because of the Sanitation Saturday restrictions. I realise after my first few words that the guy's head was bowed and he was rattling. It hit me that paddyman was praying! I stood there, waiting and couldn't help listening to his prayer. He prayed in both English and his local language. He prayed and thanked God for the day, for work, he prayed that he would serve the customers well, etc. At least those are the ones I heard in English. I waited for about 5 minutes, wondering whether he couldn't have spent that time at home praying before reporting to work. He said 'Amen' and lifted his head to see to me. 'No, all the buses will leave after 10am,' he said. Ouch, my long journey is just going to get longer, and I may not be at home in time to see my son, who is turning 6 today, before he sleeps. 'It could be faster, there may not be hold-ups at the borders,' the officer told me. 'You never know what Jesus would do,' he concluded. To this, I had to say 'Amen'.
As a traveller and a writer, I guess everything that does not go according to plan just provides more perspective and material to write about.
6.45 am: Ticket is confirmed, and the time of departure is also confirmed: it will be after 10 am, when the sanitation restrictions are over. I got some time to wait.
At the same time, a lady’s voice comes over the public address system. She welcomes us to ABC Transport terminal, thanks God for today and wishes us a pleasant journey. She goes on to announce the passengers travelling on the West Africa route – Lome-Cotonou-Accra – should proceed to check it their luggage. She must be using her normal script; today is not a normal Saturday.
After confirming my ticket, I found a porter and asked him if I should check in my luggage now. He answered in the negative.
It is 7am now. Sanitation Saturday has officially begun. I wonder if I can take a stroll outside the transport yard or that would constitute an offence. This is a question I must surely get an answer to.
A lady comes around seeing a medicine that she touts as being able to cleanse and purify your blood. I make a mental note to ask my wife and my doctor friends. Am I supposed to be taking medicine or herbs to purify my blood? If so, and I haven’t been getting it unknowingly from the foods I eat, then the blood of this Wasa man must be as dirty as the Korle.
I have a remarkable familiarity with Amuwo Odofin, where this bus terminal is situated. When I worked with Nosak Distilleries ( Ghana ) from August 2009 to March 2010, I spent about two weeks based at our factory here in Amuwo Odofin and slept at a hotel just a stone throw from this bus terminal. From here I also visited Calabar and Benin City . I will share a bit more about my stories here later in this write-up.
To learn more about this local area, I visit the Official Website of the Amuwo-Odofin Local Government, and can't help but wonder if the AMA, KMA, TMA or any of the metropolitan or local assemblies in Ghana have a website. (http://www.amuwo-odofin.gov.ng/). I am welcomed with the April 2012 message from Comrade Ayodele Adewale (and the Amuwo Odofin family), who I guess is the Chairman: "Trusting God won't make the mountains smaller but it will make climbing easier. May you be able to climb all your mountains and overcome the top in this New month and ever, amen."
I go out to the front end of the terminal to look around and find more about the sanitation Saturday. One of the best ways to find information is to 'pay' for it, and by this I mean purchasing something, even pure water and conversing with ...the seller. I saw a stand where a middle-aged man was selling belts. That is an item I need, since the only one I possessed have gone beyond the 'S' shape of my curve rating and now it was beginning to shrink. My curve theory of belts states that when you remove your belt and hold it in a vertical orientation, holding it by the handle, there are 3 shapes it will assume: 1) 'I':' meaning you have no pot belly, 2) 'C':' meaning the onset of a pot belly, more like an early warning, and 3) 'S':' meaning acute form of pot bellyness!
So I get close to the man, and as we haggled over the price of the belt (N2000, approximately GHC20), I asked him whether I would be arrested and fined if found loitering or driving around before 10am. ‘Yes,’ he confirmed my guess. Unless you are seen with a broom or anyone cleaning implement, actually doing communal cleaning.
‘But if you get N5000, you go fit waka,’ he concluded. That was the fine. I asked him why he wasn’t at home cleaning.
‘Ma pikins dey house now,’ he clarified. He must have got here way before 7 am. I bought two belts, no reduction in price. I needed to buy it or waka.
It is time to take a look around the departure lounge of the terminal, and observe what the waiting passengers are doing. Most are sleeping but with unique styles. The greater number is depending on the neck to support the unconscious head. Here one needs a neck as stout as that of Jewel Ackah for stability.
The next group used the hands like the clamp on a retort stand. One needed some clearance space for this style.
Lucky ones, ladies mostly, had shoulders of husbands, boyfriends, concubines and wannabees as pillows.
Of course, they are a number of passengers who like me are busy on hand-held devices - Blackberries, iPhones and Nokia 3310. Others were just chatting. I saw one guy with a huge 'market-women's calculator, with sheets of papers by his side on the seat, calculating furiously. Either a shylock or the victim of one. Or a trader. No time to waste.
I overheard two ladies speaking in Ga. My ears did an azonto. Sweet sounds in a foreign land.
It is a few minutes after 9am, about one hour more of waiting to do.
?9.30 am: The first bus has started boarding. I am on the second bus.
?10am: My bus hasn't started boarding. Sanitation Saturday is officially over. Starting to feel sleepy, I have been up since 2am.
A man sitting by me in the departure lounge speaks in Twi in a telephone conversation, as 3 Nigerians behind me engage in a political argument. They are discussing President Jonathan and the PDP.
?10:04am: My bus starts boarding. I am the first in the queue.
My ticket is checked and I attempt to enter the bus. 'Siiii.' I turn. I have to get my luggage inspected. That done, I go through the front end of the bus. 'Siiii.' I am to enter through the middle. I get off, and go to the mid-section. A man inspects my ticket and a young lady security officer asks to inspect my knapsack. 'But it has already been inspected,' I remind her. 'That is how we used to do it,' she says. Inspection done, 'Don't you have anything for us?' Hmm, here too? 'I have nothing for you.' I find my seat, Number 11, row 3 and settle in... Let's see how long I last in this air-conditioned ambience, conscious.
The inside of the ABC bus is neat, and tastefully furnished. For someone with long legs, clearance between seats is always of major concern to me in a bus. Thankfully, this bus passes my test.
?10.44 am: My bus sets off and I whisper my prayer to God for a safe journey home. It's gonna be a long journey.
I have not mentioned that I took some rice and cat fish stew around 4am this morning. I have always had no problem eating early, perhaps because of boarding house. But I feel hungry now. My friend Precious Obeng, who has been on such a trip on ABC, tells me some rice and stew will be served. Well, make una hurry o, belly don suffer!
I am used to seat belts, even on buses. This bus doesn't have them for passengers and that is a minus.
?10.53am: A preacher is on board and starts to lead us in prayer. He starts with a song...
He introduced himself as an Associate Pastor of the ABC Transport company. Of course, he ended up saying he didn't want to rob us of our blessings if we wanted to sow into his ministry. The prayer session was interesting as some of the passengers broke into tongues. Full service. Our cousins the Nigerians flaunt their religiosity more than we do.
We just passed by the Lagos State University as I got off the phone with my wife and sons. The birthday boy Nana Kwame sounded excited. Nana Yaw is becoming more expressive. In response to my question about what he was doing, he said he was watching TV3 and asked whether I was watching TV3 soon. I said no. He enquired whether I watch TV in my house in 'errrm Nigeria ' and if I sleep there. 'Do you have cloth and pillow too?' he wanted to know. What a caring son! The boys don't know I am on my way home to see them.
?11.49am: Breakfast is being served. The steward serving the packed lunch puts the box containing the packs near my seat and serves everyone around me but me; if he knew how my stomach was crying out loud! My discipline ensures I don’t reach out and pick one myself! I get my pack: jollof rice with chicken and a toothpick. You are invited. Actually I should have said you are all invited except those who will eat! Movies start at 12.18pm, soon after the meals are served.
Why do some people try to run commentaries on films or documentaries as if all of us can't hear or watch and understand? This fellow passenger is irritating me. In my mind, I give him a name: Oga Commentator, aka Oga Com.
I should have purchased a map for this journey. Mental note made.
12.48pm: Bus stopped for about 10minutes so far. No idea why, no explanations.
1.11pm: Nigeria-Benin border, Seme.
?1.22pm: We are on the Benin side of the Nigeria-Benin border now. The transactions took about 12 minutes. I thought we were though to go. I was wrong, we now had to go through the Benin side of the border.
As we drove through into the no-man’s land to the Benin side, I observed the barrier. The set up was interesting. Two metal drums, should be about 200L, dented and crumpled were set on each side of the road. A bamboo stick lay across the two drums. The bamboo was lifted for us to drive through, and we had by that crossed an international border.
This is my first time in Benin . One more African country ticked, albeit a drive through. Does it count as a visit?
As we waited at the border, I saw the first bus with a Ghanaian registration number ER 2527-111. Guess the make of bus? You are right...Yutong!
1.51pm: Still waiting at the Seme border. I see a lady ‘driving’ (ah, this okada dictionary I need to get my head around it o) a motorbike. Nice one. Soon, we cross into Benin proper. In Seme, I see two Peugeot 404s within a minute. Long time since I saw those legends of yesteryears. My uncle PK had one when I was growing up, and we really admired him. And the car. Peugeot 404.
We made a brief stop at Seme; some passengers buy oranges. I saw the signboard of a restaurant that caught me attention: Restaurant Chez Maman Gogologo. I liked the name: Gogologo, could do as a nickname of a hard guy in secondary school.
2.40pm: We leave Seme and drive towards Cotonou .
2.55pm: We are in Cotonou , and moving on. Two ladies sitting on Row 2 just ahead of me are in conversation with Oga Com. One moment, it seems to me that they know each other. Another moment, I feel like they are getting to know him. Oga Com fascinates them, as he seems to know about every- and anything under the sun, apart from his opinion of movies. The ladies refer to him as ‘Pastor’ as well. The travel executive replies in the affirmative when Oga Com enquired whether it was true a passenger died recently on a trip to Accra . Oga Com concludes that the cause of death was drugs which burst in the boy’s stomach after he had swallowed them. He said the boy was using Ghanaian passport, though not a Ghanaian. Oga Com links it to the illicit drug trade into Europe . Hmm, Oga! We make a brief stop at the ABC office here.
I see a lot of okadas here in Benin as well. Seems they share that means of transport with Nigeria .
As I drifted into zzz-land, the thought on my mind was this: why can’t we have an express rail service between Lagos and Accra ? Yes, I like to dream…
We got to Hilla Condji and crossed over by 6.17pm. Here, all the passengers alighted and we crossed the border posts on foot. There were lots of hawkers here. I changed some naira and dollars into cedis, so I could have some money for taxi when I arrived in Tema.
7.39pm: Just crossing at Aflao...home sweet home! About to go through immigration procedures on the Ghana side of the Aflao border.
Our last stop before Tema was at the checkpoint in Dabala. Here, we got down for a brief check, and I got some mutton suya, hot, spicy, in leaves. Suya hadn’t tasted that nice for a long time! Efie ni fie!
11.06pm: In taxi on my way home, from Tema.
I got home around 11.30pm (Nigerian time which is GMT+1. The local time in Ghana was 10.30pm). Nana Kwame was asleep, but the others were awake and they were so happy! It felt good to be home again, tired and all.
Source: Nana Awere Damoah, Author, Tales from Different Tails/Through the Gates of Thought / Excursions In My Mind http://www.facebook.com/nanaaweredamoah