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Opinions of Tuesday, 5 August 2003

Columnist: GNA

A Journey to the West

A Ghana News Agency Feature by Samuel Osei-Frempong

Accra, Aug. 5, GNA - When an old and dilapidated Willowbrook bus roars, honks and spews carbon from its rear around the Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra at anytime of the day, they take one route - the Kaneshie-Odorkor-Mallam road.

If the road were a river, it would have been one of the most fascinating attractions in the Accra Metropolitan area.

It pierces the very heart of the western part of this sprawling city, receiving loads of human and vehicular traffic from all fronts, allowing them to roll on its smooth surface as if preparing them for a big emptying ritual into an unknown sea.

From Obetsebi Lamptey Circle to the Mallam Junction, the engineering feat rolls more than eight kilometres cutting through cultures, economic and social classes, religious and linguistic barriers.

The old and smoky buses speed with impunity on this road, which used to be a bumpy long strip of worn-out dried coal tar before the then fancied Construction Pioneers built it into a three lane double carriage in the eighties.

Six main junctions serve as breaks and on each stands traffic lights that blink in their own time automatically to control commuters and vehicles.

The various junctions connect other important roads that serve western Accra.

Miss Akua Acquah, 27, who has lived in Kaneshie all her life says one can be born here, school here and die here and still remain near this road.

"Anything that makes a human being enjoy and hate life can be found along this road"

The conspicuous symbols of Churches, Mosques, Fetish shrines and places of worship of Eastern Religions along the road guarantees the harmonisation of religious and secular way of life and cultures. Ethnic groupings and even citizens of Ghana's neighbouring countries co-exit in this part of the world with each group protecting its values.

Awudome Cemetery, which is brick walled and holds superstition and graves, lie just at its mouth providing spaces for former living bodies, who took their first steps in the many clinics and maternity homes glued to the road.

Those who believe in ghosts visualise them criss-crossing it, while those who love to grieve could save their tears until they get close.

Akua, who plies the route daily, has committed to memory the names of the various stops and could be charitable to new conductors known as mates on these buses.

She had given birth and mourned the baby's father's death within a week.

"I have lived in the labour ward and walked the mortuary. Life on this road is just like that. It begins with joy and sometimes ends in sorrow."

The man who was once her lover became jobless and turned to alcohol for solace.

"Most men along the road love to drink. Sometimes you just can't understand why some of these things happen." Schools that feature prominently in its catchment area include the famous Accra Academy that has baked a lot of scholars and still hold on to its unique antiquity.

Its prominence is unrivalled on this road. Although, houses and drinking bars now surround Accra Academy, its commitment to educating the youth to be sober remains firm.

The new Central University, which may be reserved for the rich and not for the wards of many a resident around is nearby.

Among the numerous filling stations that fill the bellies of the vehicles that ply this road is the Darkuman Mobil filling station. The white washed edifice shares a wall with a colony of mechanics, whose working gear never escape dirty oil and the blackened earth.

Beautiful buildings line-up its frontage as if shielding the "neophyte" from the slums and dirty sewerage that flow through abandoned drains. Rats, cockroaches and flies roam this "underworld" with impunity.

The inhuman treatment meted out to tenants by most landlords along the road has forced many to build sharks with no sewerage facilities let alone pipe-borne water.

The day begins with the first ray of sunlight and may never end for many, who patronise the various drinking bars and chop bars that had discouraged cooking at home and buoyed marital infidelity.

They love their way of doing things and addressing issues. To ask a woman for a date means speaking plain language and no playing around with words.

In restaurants, there are no strict table manners and the handling of cutlery remains a personal dinning strategy. When a knife finds its way into a bowl of soap, it would probably be searching for an eluding piece of meat.

A new date could wear bathroom slippers and demand a sample of Chinese or Italian dish on the menu before orders are made. First impressions are so much cherished that young men borrow to buy beer for their dates although beer is not the favourite of many. A typical date along this massive road is as fascinating as the zooming and bumping of cars whose echoes keep possession of the ear for long periods.

The man must "lay foundation" with local gin and buy a minted chewing gum to "deodorise" his breath before taking the woman who would have gone through the same ritual.

Most dates, in order to look their best borrow outfits to look their best and skip supper, which under normal circumstances, is a privilege.

A date is only successful when it is "consummated" in a hired place because 'what for what" remain a popular philosophy.

Then the upper class would build tall walls to perpetuate in vain the economic and social disparity that exit along the road.

They are the sons and daughters of the middle class people who moved from the city's old suburbs to seek tranquillity near nature. Although, they have been overwhelmed by the population explosion around them due to the rural-urban drift, they struggle to keep their identity intact.

They take vows secretly never to have in-laws from the under class.

On their large metal gates hang "beware of dogs' tags while gatekeepers are under instruction to open only when the master zooms near and to bang the gate on the other world as soon as the master disappears.

But as nature would always be the leveller, relations struck between young people of different social classes make the strongest bond along the road.

The person from the lower class in such unions could risk his or her freedom as all attempts would be made to terminate it. House servants of the privileged and mothers of the lower class wade through the muddy paths to the Kaneshie and Mallam Junction Markets to bargain for lower prices.

For the unaccompanied house help, its is time for fun and freedom but when the Madam is close by, her over sized dress and a rough hair cut add to the subjugation she would have to endure. She steals glances at the television back at "home" and slumbers during late chores and when she is allowed to sleep she dreams of pain, anger and humiliation.

She is the representative of the lower class in the elitist class that seeks to inherit the former Colonial Master.

A hot tea in a warm morning and long stockings under the blazing sun are cherished habits that they would never trade off for nothing. But when death calls, most of them are taken from their big mansions and stored in the graves that make up the Awudome Cemetery where termites and gravediggers do not separate the "once-rich" from the "once-poor".

As the sun began its journey to the west, anticipating a rest after a long day, Akua who had just acquired the status of motherhood, alighted from a Willowbrook bus (space car tro tro) at Mallam Junction.

Her eyes followed the massive bus that had begun a journey back to the other end and as it melted into the horizon, she thought of her child who like others may rock his cradle and rent a grave along this long mysterious road.