2 July 2011 – Metro Mass Transit(MMT)

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The intersection near Adome Bridge in Atmpoku, Eastern Region is a very busy one. It’s on the main road from Accra, the capitol of Ghana, and Ho, the capitol of the Volta Region. Because it is a main thoroughfare I was able to photograph many aspects of travel in Ghana just by hanging around the traffic circle near the bridge.  I will put some photos along with a brief explanation in the next few posts. This post will be devoted to the Metro Mass Transit)bus  buses A.K.A Kafour buses because President Kafour started the program.

I have a love hate relationship with MMT. It was on a Metro bus that I first traveled to my beloved Sandema. It was just after sunset when we crossed the border from the Northern region into the Upper East. The light made the trees along the roadside look like eerie dancers. In was in an MMT bus that I first saw the new green grasses blowing in the breeze across the vast expanses of the savanna. The first year the Metro bus was my main form of transport from Sandema to Bolga where I could connect with family and friends on the internet. I have had so many great conversations traveling on these buses For all these things I love the Metro Mass Transit Buses.

But I also sat on a full MMT bus in Bolga station for 30 minutes in the noon day sun waiting for the driver to come from who knows where. We had already sat for 1.5 hours waiting for this bus to Tamale to fill. Once, in Sandema, I paid the fare of one of my students. I was sitting near the door when he came and handed the conductor a 5 GHC bill. The conductor shouted that he should have correct change and that he could not get on. The boy started to leave but I handed the conductor the 30 Pesewa to get to the school.

Stopping a regulation bus stops or anywhere else along the route was at the whim of the driver. The MMT petty despots of the kingdom of their route.  At least 5 times in two years the MMT into Sandema drove right by me and others waiting for to go to town. This was always so disappointing but even more so after I had waited up to 2 hours for transport into town.  The regulation is that the bus will stop anywhere along the route to discharge passengers. But often the crys of” Bus Stop” would go unheaded by the ruler in the driver’s seat. At the stations they entered the bus on their own mysterious time tables. Many came 5 to 10 minutes after the bus filled others kept hot passengers waiting more than 30 minutes.

Their were two MMT buses that ran between Bolga and Sandema. They had no set schedule when they entered the station they would sit until the bus was full.  The only scheduled departure was the first bus of the morning at approx. 6:30 am a metro bus left each town, from then on it was up to the fates when the bus would arrive or leave the station in each town again. The time between Bolga and Sandema was also flexible. One time the bus sat in Navarongo, the biggest town between Bolga and Sandema, for 45 minutes while goods were unloaded. As I mentioned before the bus can stop at any place along the route to pick up or discharge passengers so this also adds to the flexible drive time between the two towns. I should have also added this to the love section because really many people had no other from of transport so it was a gift that the bus would stop near their village or settlement.

For most of my first two years, until Metro Mass Transit allowed advance purchase of tickets, If I wanted to travel a long distance I would have to get up hours before the bus left to wait in the dark in a long line. For example, if I wanted to travel from the Kumasi suboffice to the Tamale suboffice I would have to wake up at 3:30 am so the taxi could get me to the MMT station by 4:30 at the latest for a 7:00 am bus. Even when I arrived at 4:30 the line was already 20 people long. Once the ticket office opened there were always those few people who thought they were better than the rest of us and would cut while someone was buying a ticket. I learned to spread my elbows out, put my bag on the shelf on one side of me and to use my body to shield the other side while I was buying a ticket. I blame the ticket sellers. The  people waiting in line would complain and shout at the interloper but the ticket seller just went ahead and sold the self important man his ticket.

Once you had your ticket you had to wait for the scheduled leaving time, or the whim of the despotic driver, before you could even load your luggage in the luggage bins. (That’s why Lenore and I were a bit confused when the bus in Burkino Faso started loading luggage 30 minutes before the time we were scheduled to leave!) I usually travel light so I can carry it on to the bus with me and not fight the masses putting my luggage in the bins.

oh but then getting on the bus is often on big shoving match. Here I also blame the conductors who are checking tickets. Why don’t the make people form a line? I have to say that I have gotten ruthless getting on buses Ok so maybe I don’t punch anyone but my elbows are bent and spread on either side to make me as large as possible. When the conductor is checking my ticket I stand with one leg so someone would have to step over it or trip to climb on the bus before me. On time I slid myself in front of a man who was trying to cut in front of me and he said to me ”Obruni, what’s the matter are you worried you won’t get a seat?!” Who was cutting in line?

Once I got on the bus, there usually was plenty of room for my backpack, my legs and my ample bottom – a large improvement over almost any tro tro but not as good as the STC buses The people and things that came onto the bus were very entertaining. One time coming home from Bolga a man brought three bright blue plastic lawn chairs on to the bus, He set the stack down in the aisle and sat on the top one. Women often offered me a seat beside them on their bag of corn they were bringing to market. Live chickens and goats were carried home from market.

Passengers shouted encouragement to the drive to get moving. Sometimes they chided him for his reckless driving. They chastised each other as well. Once a drunk was trying to have a political debate with anyone who would take the bait. And when a rude arrogant man offered to give me a black baby the women all joined me in telling him “You are NOT correct!”

I have seen so much of Ghana on the big orange buses that I have to conclude that the relationship is more love than hate.

-vc

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