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

Sunday 13 June 08

Today was a slow day, thank goodness. Practicum finished Friday so no lesson plans to make, no homework to correct. So I stayed home most of the day. The morning started about 6:15 am when i did two buckets full of laundry. I washed my sheet and pillow cases. I am so happy I have my own pillow here from The States. The pillows here feel like they have lumps of stuff in them and cannot be remotely described as soft. I sleep on a piece of foam. That is covered by a heavy blanket then the blanket is covered by a flat sheet. I sleep on top of that with my wonderful, marvelous, magical, all purpose two yard in case my feet get cold. They have maybe half a dozen times and only twice have I slept with socks on. So you gotta know it’s hot here. I soaked all of my clothes overnight. That really helps get them clean. I washed and rinsed them then put my linens in the bucket to soak while I hung out the other clothes. Washed my linens and a few throw rugs and towels. Got them on the line and it started to rain! But luckily for me it only sprinkled for about 10 minutes. Most of the clothes dried by 10;30 with some of the heavier ones drying later in the afternoon. I put the blanket on the line as well to air out. I ate a light breakfast of boiled egg, bananas and an orange. I had some hot tea. I still want it no matter how warm it is in the morning. I took my malaria pill with a full glass of water. It must be taken with food and water. Then I washed my dishes and sat and enjoyed the sun for a few minutes. I was just sitting on a stool in the courtyard, my eyes closed. One of the childred said ”Auntie Vic’ what are you doing? “ just enjoying the sun. I took a bucket bath. It’s a wonderful feeling to squeeze cold water from a wash cloth and feel a chill when it’s already 86 degrees out at 7:30 am. After my bath I worked on Buli, my language. I tried writing some questions and answer that are common when you are just meeting some one. Fu yoi li buaa? (What is your name?) Mi yoi li Vicky. (My name is Vicky), My new favorite phrase is MAAAA MU. It is yelled and it means help me. I also like Taw, ti li man zigi chaab, That means we will meet again. This language is more tonal than twi. the word for sing means sing when said in a high tone and song when said in a low tone. hopefully context will help my listeners. After an hour i wanted to go out and enjoy the weather so I pulled a chair out and got a wooden stool. I sat in the courtyard in the shade and continued my language review. The most popular kind of chair here are placstic lawn chairs. They clean easily and don’t mold or mildew. As I was sitting in the courtyard my sister, Portia, brought three of her friends to meet me. I enjoyed meeting them all. Last night I brought my three sisters (yes I know I had two before but families here are very fluid. I am not really sure if Portia is a sister or cousin) to a dance party for one of the other PCTs, Megan. It was Megan’s birthday. I introduced them to my friends so it felt nice when Portia reciprocated. It got hot quickly so in about ½ an hour I returned to the house. I studied about another 45 minutes. The children had been peeking in under the door curtain. (Door curtains help keep out bugs in liu of a screen door. ) And asking for me so I decided to go outside with them for a bit. They play outside all day but you will see them playing in the shade. We played rock paper scissors. I learned to count to three in twi. They made more pictures and letters with an elastic. And they read me an English ABC book and told me the twi words for each of the pictures. They are getting more use to me. Today a couple of them felt comfortable enough to touch my skin. They are very curious to know how my white skin feels. And the baby who is afraid of me sat within 3 feet of me today. The kids brighten my day. While they were reading to me the air began to smell as if the baby made a mess in her diaper. I looked at her but she seemed unfazed. Then one boy pointed to another and said “You spoiled the air!” I laughed and laughed. I took my laundry in and got out my computer to copy some of my earlier blog entries that I had written in a note book. That kept me busy until lunch. At lunch I had potatoes! YEAH!!! Irene skinned them then fried them whole. She served them with beans. The beans were not spicy and the potatoes were much sweeter than the ones at home. They tasted like sweet potatoes but were white. Potatoes definitely have more flavor than the white yams that I have eaten here. The white yams just taste like a mouthful of starch. After lunch I took a nap. It’s amazing how much a small breeze can cool me off. There was the littlest breeze coming through my window and it was just enough to cool me down so i could nap. It’s nice to nap in the heat of the day. Otherwise if I exert myself even a little I get quite sweaty! After my nap Sara called and she and Megan came over for a visit. Sara had a cold and just wanted company. Megan brought her computer for us to watch a movie but the sound was not loud enough. bummer John Cusack in Say Anything. Megan brought a coconut. Last week Sara brought one and it was not ripe enough to eat. Today we asked my sister, Esther, to chop it open for us. She is one powerful woman. She held the coconut in one hand and hacked the top off with a machette in the other hand. Both Megan and I were awed. But alas, we offered her a drink of the milk and promised some meat but when she drank the milk it was spoiled. Hopefully we will get a coconut that is “just right” next weekend! We finally got a nice long rain. My laundry was in so I didn’t care. Megan and Sara left. Then Agatha, my language teacher, came by and we planned our lesson for tomorrow. I showed off my homework to her. I played some solitaire. I ate a very light dinner of bananas and groundnut paste. I took a bucket bath. Set my other bra to soak in the remaining water and some laundry soap. I will rinse it and hang it out to dry tomorrow. Then grabbed my computer to write this post. Some PCTs and trainers went to a waterfall today but I really needed a day to recoup and have no planned activities. Now that training is over we usually have just 4 hours of lessons. Language and subject specific, ICT for me. I hope to spend more time in the village. it would be nice to get to know the people I have been greeting. Today Megan, Sara and I talked about the value of getting to know someone even if you may never see them again. I mentioned it in a previous post so I won’t ramble but it was nice to know others feel the same way. I don’t think I have mentioned how noisy Africa is. I feel like the Grinch, Oh the noise Oh the noise oh the Noise Noise Noise Noise. Cocks crowing from about 3:30 am. 400 am the Muslim call to prayer. Then 45 mins later the close of prayer. Radios playing loudly at all hours of the night. The spot or bar is close to my house. And funerals can go all night. Friday night there was a funeral and it lasted until dawn. Since the funeral was at the spot near my house even the earplugs did not drown out all the noise. But tonight, there is a hum of people quietly talking, a TV is quietly on in the room next door, some doors opening and closing in the distance and I can hear the frogs peeping. It will be a good night to sleep.

Dancing 05 Jul 08

Today I danced with my Ghanian brothers and sisters and my fellow PCTs. I had a wonderful time. Dancing the local dances was one of the things had hoped to do here in Ghana. At the Hub site in Kukarantumi (sp) today some Junior High School students came to demonstrate a dance from the Greater Accra region, the region we are in now.  We had a wonderful time watching them and listening to them drum.  The dances are very rhythmic and full of joy!

 

Then we got a chance to join them Of course I got out there and tried. The dancers were very patient with us.  Even though we don’t speak each other’s languages very well we communicated what we needed to learn some basic steps. One part is so funny. We have moved into a circle and we bend over and hold the left buttock of the person ahead of us. Then you swing your right arm almost like and elephants trunk but when the arm comes down it slaps the butt of the person in front of you! 

 

 I did not make the whole dance but I hope to get more use to the effort it takes to dance in the heat and to dance at our swearing in ceremony.  I really am getting use to the heat but today my clothes were literally soaking wet.  I am thinking maybe I should find out if they had a dance to do in the rain welcoming it!

 

Then I came home and rested. After I rested I started studying but some kids from my compound wanted to come in so  I let them. I taught them rock, paper, scissors.  We played for at least 15 minutes. I think the kids liked having a reason to touch and Obruni(white person).  Then I told them I learned some dance steps today and they wanted to see it. So I did a few moves and they joined me. Then my Sister Irene came in to cook dinner and the kids said I was dancing. So she showed me some dance steps from different regions. Pretty soon women and children were crowded into my door and my Sister Esther came in and the dance party really started.  One tribe up  north does a dance to the ABCs! 

 

My sisters were very excited about coming to my swearing in and seeing us dance and drum. It made me so happy to think they want to be there. I am so glad I do not care what people think and have let go of any self conscienciousness. I am having so much fun here.

 

So watch out America I’ll be bringing back Ga and Ashanti dance moves in two years.  

 

Accra Quest 13 June 2008

 

Lenore, another 50+ PCT, said that the PC was doing our intro to Ghana just right. I agree.  We are being introduced small small(Ghaneese), one step at a time.  Today we went on Accra Quest. We caught a tro tro from our lodgings in Accra.  Tro Tros are a form of public transportion run by private individuals. They are basically minivans.  The PC tells us we should inspect any vehicle we are considering riding in to make sure it is in good condition.  And if it looks unsafe we are not supposed to get on it.  Well that is theory but in real life you stand at a tro tro stop and yell out where you want to go. They stop and herd you on and off you go.  They are old. They are run down. The seats are sometimes ripped but they run ok for the short distances we take them.

 

We set out in groups of threes, with a task and 3 Ghana Cedes each. My groups task was to find the price of a two yard.  Some day I will write of the joys of a two yard. it is amazing! We were charged to get to the main part of Accra ourselves. Meg, Steffan and I headed out to the road to catch atro tro. There is a driver and a mate in the tro tro. The mate hangs out a window making hand signs and yelling the final destination. I figure the hand signs have something to do with the destination.  Then you yell back your destination, if you don’t want to go to the final destination.  We yelled Accra 37 station.  Then mate helps you board and sometime during the ride takes your money. The price for a tro tro ride is not negiable, unlike most things in Ghana. 

 

The ride was crowded and loud. The mate yelling the destination. The driver honking at perspective riders or other tro tro drivers. Tro tro drivers could easily make it as NYC taxi drivers!  And the unwelcome of  sound of cell phones musically alertng the owner to a call or a text message. Cell phones are everywhere!

 

All the windows are open as you drive and as long as you move its not too hot. The best thing about tro tro windows are the people outside the windows.  Rachel, one of the volunteers who is a trainer, said ‘It’s amazing the things you can buy off peoples heads”.  People walk aloing busy roads with boxes, plastic tubs or even ice boxes on their heads selling stuff to people in the slow traffic.  Yesterday I bought Fanchoco, frozen chocolate milk and pine nuts. I shared the pinenuts with the other PCTs but they let me have the Fanchoco because they all knew I was cravng sweets. 

 

Our assignment was to go to Makola Market and find some “Obruni Wayroo” and the price of a two yard of batik. The first part of our assignment was completed as we waited out a downpour in a bank lobby.  The rain usually does not last long and shopkeepers let people come in out of the rain. In the banke we struck up a conversation with two men who lived in Accra. Stephan asked what “Obruni Wayroo” was.  After much repetiton and pantomime we discovered it meanse “dead white people’s clothes”  The Africans think that the clothes they get from America must be dead men’s clothes because who else would give away such nice clothes!  They assured us it was not an insult. One man shyly asked if it were true. Do we send dead men’s clothes to Africa.  I explained that some of the clothes could be dead men’s clothes but also Americans have way too many clothes so we dash them to you.  A dash is a gift.  He laughed probably as much at me using the term dash as at the idea that people would give away so many clothes.

 

Our second assignment was completed after the rain in the market. The market covers a large part of the city and pather lined with stalls wind all through the area.  Each section of the market sells something different, vegetables, meet, fish, plastic wear, drinks, or cloth. Shopkeepers called out to us as we walked by “Come come buy”.  They would extend their hand and close the fingers back towards themselves.  Now I know that means come here it’s like our come here hand signal except the hand is palm down. We did stop and talk to a few shopkeepers They were very interested in us, where did we come from? Why were we here? One woman and I talked about palm nuts and all the uses of palm nuts. 

 

With the help of many people we finally found the fabric area of Makola Market.  I visited two shops and go a green and brown patterned two yard for two Ghana Cedes.  (1 Ghana Cede is a little more than an American dollar as of July 6th.) After visiting a few more shops Steffan scored three yards for 6 Ghana Cedes.

 

It looks like there is no building code in Ghana or it is not enforced.  The stalls are little more than a few boards and a roof to make some shade. Some of the stalls have tin roofs and even some have tin sides but here in the hot sun tin is not that cool. I will take photos I promise so you can see some examples. I am being very careful about taking out my electronics. I will probably take my camera out in my village in a few weeks then post some photos to my flickr account. I do want photos of my first home in Ghana and my first ‘family’.

 

As Lenor said they are guiding us step by step into Ghanian culture.  Beside using the Tro Tro and shopping in the market we also learned that almost anyone on the street will help us find   things.  One man boarded a tro tro with us and took us to Makola market. Another woman lead us to a tro tro station.  We asked one man where we could eat our bag lunches and he took us to Accra Polytech’s dining room and told the matron we would be eating there. What a difference from New Yorkers who might say “What do I look like lady, a map!” accompanied with and inpolite gesture.

 

Meg Steffan and I found our way back to the PC Office in Accra where we were all debriefed. And of course another round of shots from the PCMO(PC Medical Officer)  A long ride home in the PC van.  Dinner. Packing for vision quest and yet another meeting then at last

 

sweet sweet bed!

 

Reflections:

Everything people said to me about the Ghanian people has proven true. They are friendly. The are warm and hospitable. After Accra Quest I would not hesitate to ask a stranger for help.

 

The market facinated me. Women and their children working in their market stalls. Friends were chatting together across the path and down the stalls.  The red palm nust,the bunches of orange carrots, the rough brown yams, the black and white Ashanti cloth,the multicolored batiks and the yellow scarves all added to the tapestry of the market.

 

I was glad I was with other people.  At time I felt bold and eager to try to communicate with the shopkeepers and at other times I was happy to let one of the others do it.  Sometimes I just wanted to observe as well.

 

Bridge to PreService Training

bridge-to-pst-ghana-2008

Here is the info about my training. I was going to condense it for you but time got away from me. funny me thinking that three days would be enough to pack, for connecticut good byes and to blog! (I wrote this blog entry on saturday but I post dated it.)

Highlights.

First four days in Accra which include a cultural scavenger hunt and an embassy party.

The next five days I make my way to another PCV’s site and have a vision quest.

then I travel to the training site for 10 weeks of community based training. it’s a new method of training volunteers. you will be happy to know that i will be taught the language i will need for my site as well as survival twi.

There will be limited access to internet during training.

then swearing in on august 19.

-vc

Departure Day

Up bright and early this morning to have breakfast and to head to the clinic for 7:00 am.  I had breakfast with Lenore and she worked in the Library of Congress as a staff person.  One of her co-workers had served in the PC in Ghana! small world.

Yellow fever shot today.  Malaria regiment began today.  Many more shots to come.

Check out at 11:00 a.m.

Free for lunch until the bus for Newark arrives at 1:00 p.m.  Someone asked Kate how long the bus ride to Newark was she said 2.5 to 5 hours! GREAT!!!

Then we fly out to Amsterdam at 6:30 p.m.

I have already started asking people about games for the plane. It’s going to be a long ride!

Ghana country director Bob Gollage(SP) is a hugh RED SOX FAN!!! Josh Red Sox nation is everywhere.  Sorry Helen.

Reflections:

I am over my butterflies and minor anxieties and back to my confident optimistic self!

Off to get a Dr. Pepper!

-vc

Staging Day 1

Getting There

The most frustrating thing about Day one was my plane flight. I have spent the last month flying all over the country and my flight was never delayed in fact twice we left the gate before our scheduled time, I had no where I had to be so it would not have mattered how long i was delayed then. But 060708 when I had somewhere to be at a set time – what happens? You guessed it! almost a 2 hour delay. At least they let us off the plane after 45 minutes. Philly airport was having weather! I missed lunch. Good thing I got a Dr.Pepper and some chex mix when we deplane.

The Group

The majority of my group are recent graduates either this year or last year. There is one gentleman who is at least 70, and I thought I’d be the oldest! One woman over 50 who’s serving with out spouse and a 50+ who is originally from Ireland. The remaining PCTs are under thirty but a few years out of college. There are two married couples. One twin without his sister. Pretty evenly distributed between male and female.

The main trainer, Sheila, is not a Peace Corps staff member. She is an outside consultant who has run staging events for the Peace Corps for 15 years. Jennifer is the Peace Corps country liason at PC Headquarters. She’s a RPCV – Returned PC Volunteer and Kate is the coordinator for this staging event, also a RPCV.

Sara

Since our flights were messed up I did not meet Sara until registration. On my way to the registration table I saw some PCVs. You know them by the blue folder we all carry. I said hi and someone who looked very familiar she said ” Are you Vicky?”

“Yes” I replied.

“I’m Sara! I recognized you by your shoes!” she exclaimed.

After I turned in all my paperwork I had some time to get to know the other volunteers and some help doing it with an ice breaker. Felt like one of Jeanette’s Volunteer Breakfasts!

The first session was about the Goals of the Peace Corps. We discussed what about the Peace Corps attracted us. We had a chance to write what about the mission was most important to us.

For me, the most important aspect of the Peace Corps mission is making a connection with people of another culture. I want the learning and teaching to flow in both directions.

We also wrote our personal definition of success.

I know that I am a successful volunteer when…

a member of my community asks me for advice.

I am invited to family or community functions.

I see that spark of understanding in one of my students eyes.

I make a friend.

Sheila discussed briefly about our support in Ghana

Then we discussed our anxieties and aspirations. We broke into 5 groups. The assignment was to make a list and draw a picture, Very interesting and fun!

Then Kate talked about administrative stuff.

I would like to thank each and everyone of you who reads this blog for supporting me for the next two and 1/2 years. Your tax dollars are feeding, clothing, housing and entertaining me starting from staging. Thank you. I knew this before but getting my staging allowance yesterday made it real.

Dinner

Ate Thai food with Sara and Stephanie.

Last phone calls

Before sleep I used my cell for the last time and called my mom, Jack and Beth.

Sleep

Reflection

Day one staging certainly made my adventure more real. It is finally sinking in that I am going to Ghana for two years. But I am still calm and not afraid. I just know that this is what I am supposed to do.

-vc