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Regional News of Thursday, 26 July 2007

Source: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

FEATURE: Mayor Blankson Counsels Godliness

Mr. Stanley Nii Adjiri-Blankson’s recent call on Ghanaian private, commercial motorists to maintain desirable personal hygiene standards sent this writer rummaging for his old telephone and address book. For as momentous as such call was, it reminded me of one particular taxi-cab driver who memorably contradicted Mayor Adjiri-Blankson’s exhortation to the executive members of the Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU) “to advise their drivers and mates to brush their teeth before they start [their] daily business” (Ghanaweb.com 7/11/07).

The caption of the news write-up, as has become quite pedestrian among the gamut of the Ghanaian press, both private and public, did not accurately reflect the content of the story. It bluntly read: “Brush Your Teeth – Mayor to Taxi Drivers” (Daily Ghanaian Voice 7/11/07). Needless to say, those of us who know anything about the GPRTU are well aware of the fact that this Union’s membership also includes Trotro (or shuttle bus and truck) drivers and conductors, as well as long-distance plying sedans, station wagons, SUVs and buses.

And so, perhaps, the keen reader could fairly accurately infer that the reporter of the aforementioned article is a city-slick, that is, somebody who rarely travels outside the Ghanaian capital, let alone travel by means other than taxi-cabs. Or maybe the reporter has an especial dislike, or aversion, for taxi drivers, however capricious or idiosyncratic such dislike may be.

Anyway, after some twenty marathon minutes of frantic rummaging, I finally located my old phone book. I even had the taxi driver’s home-address and two telephone numbers – home and mobile – in my phone book; and I was about to give them to the dear reader until, suddenly, I realized that it has been exactly five years since I hired the superb “motorly” services of Mr. Seth Mensah-Addo.

And as I recall it, the first most striking thing about this young man was the soldier-stiff ironing of his pair of pants – trousers, in Ghanaian parlance – and shirt. And the guy had a clean hanker-chief over the well-starched collar of his navy-blue shirt, almost exactly as yours truly used to do in elementary school some thirty years ago. And here, also, I must hasten to add that Mr. Seth Mensah-Addo was no elementary school pupil at all; more like a head-teacher, perhaps. And to be certain, the La-Boy looked to be almost the same age as yours truly, except that unlike yours truly Mensah-Addo had not recently emerged out of the most heart-rending “pan-Africanist” relationship in New York and been mixed-blessed with a daughter sporting three nationalities.

Still, interestingly enough, the guy had those three traditional creases below the collar of his shirt, just about where the shoulder blades are located. We had met totally by chance: I had waved his cab down and asked him to ferry me to the Broadcasting House of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC). I was scheduled to meet with an old family friend then serving as director of G-TV and like me, a community college professor. This was after a ratty and insufferably rude taxi driver whose services I had hired the previous day predictably failed to show up on time. And not only had he been insufferably rude, the bloke fitted exactly the profile of the kind of unsightly cab-driver that Mayor Adjiri-Blankson had in mind the day the Accra city chief made his eyebrow-raising pronouncement at the Accra Conference Hall. The remark itself was quite a standard fare; rather, it was the banner reportage of the same that was eyebrow-raising, if only because of the poor image it presented about the average Ghanaian cab-driver to the proverbial international community – for I invariably think of my countrymen and women as indisputably among the neatest people on the African continent if not, in fact, the neatest. I was to later learn that not only was my first cab-driver intolerably obnoxious – he seemed to have some inexplicable dislike for “Burghers” – he also drove the wrong cab. He drove some weird contraption called “Akwadaa Woreko ’He,” loosely translated from the Akan original as: “Hey Boy, Where Are You Going?”

Anyway, what impressed me far more than anything else was that Mr. Seth Mensah-Addo treated his taxi-cab (I forget exactly of what make or model it was) as his own, spit-shining the splendorous thing just about every ten minutes whenever yours truly alighted at a point of call or errand. Treating the damn pretty, old thing almost as if she were his own girlfriend.

On another quite nostalgic level, when Mayor Adjiri-Blankson exhorts the GPRTU executive members to: “Tell your drivers that they should brush their teeth before they go to work,” the Accra city chief reminds yours truly of his maternal grandmother who used to say, time without number, that her pet aversion was a mature girl or woman who got out of bed and went straight into the kitchen to cook without first having washed down. And there is, of course, no question that had she still been living among us today, Mrs. Grace Akosua Ateaa Agyeman-Sintim, of Nkronso-Apedwa, would almost definitely have likened the preceding breed of Ghanaian woman to “Shit-Bombing.”

On a more serious note, one wonders whether Mayor Adjiri-Blankson could not have done his constituents better service by outlining a personal hygiene program or periodic health courses of some relevant sort for the members of the Ghana Private Road Transport Union, particularly motorists and their apprentices – or mates – if, indeed, the Accra city chief feels so strongly about this issue. For the far-reaching impact of his pronouncement on the unsavory personal hygiene of commercial motorists on Ghana’s tourism industry cannot be underestimated. More significantly, perhaps, what needs prompt redressing are issues of health-insurance coverage for the members of the GPRTU and their families, particularly drivers and their mates.

Another relevant dimension regards the generally appalling condition of Ghana’s roadways; and by the latter is squarely meant the unbearable dust-bowls that are the hallmark of the country’s road transport. Indeed, so dusty are the streets and roads that bathing and oiling one’s skin, for the average Ghanaian commercial motorist, is certain recipe for turning oneself into a dust-trap. This may, indeed, partially explain the apparently abject disregard for cleanliness and, in essence, godliness on the part of our passenger-drivers and their mates. For why take a water-shower, if one is certain to end up a virtual dust-mite less than an hour later on the highway?

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of “Ama Sefa: Unrequited Love” (iUniverse.com, 2005). E-mail: okoampaahoofe@aol.com.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.