20 October 2011

First impressions of Africa: Taxis.

In September we traveled to Ghana and Togo, Africa, to visit our daughter Tammy. She is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo.

You walk off the plane at the Accra, Ghana airport and the first thing that hits you is "It's hot and humid!" It was like walking from an air conditioned room into a sauna with all your clothes on. Before we even got on the shuttle that took us to the terminal, I peeled off my sweatshirt and began sweating. That sweating continued for the next two weeks.

We found Tammy easily at the airport. I'm not going to try to tell you how good it was to see her again after a year's absence, because it's indescribable. Enough said.

Tammy negotiated a taxi for us and we were dropped into the streets of Ghana.
Note: click on a photo to enlarge it.

Shot from the back seat of a taxi; that's Tammy in the passenger seat. Note the man carrying a large load of construction materials, someone with a container of fruit, a woman with a large pan on her head.

Photos and words cannot describe the experience. You need too the odors and the noises to complete the picture. And the feeling of terror of that first taxi ride.

The roads of Ghana were chaotic. Cars, hand-pulled carts, trucks, huge trucks, motos, bicycles, and pedestrians all mix together, moving at different speeds and merging and crossing marked or unmarked lanes and maneuvering right or left turns. Throughout, pedestrians carrying huge loads on their heads move next to and into the traffic, sometimes just moving along, sometimes trying to sell random items to the people in the cars. It might be bread, big yam roots, toothpaste, kleenex, shoes, rope, boiled eggs, a new shirt, phone cards, coconuts, deodorant, fried plantains, peanuts, water, on and on. Kids play a few feet from the road. Drivers fill up as much of the road as they can, heedless of lane markings or even the edges of the road, going out to the opposing lanes or onto the right side of the road to pass a slower car as necessary. Most vehicles are old and beat up and spewing fumes.

Amazingly enough, it all seems to work. Traffic kind of flows like a river, albeit a stinky and dirty river. The drivers are very alert and work together, they cooperate. They use their horns to let others know if they are passing, but it's a polite beep, not an angry blast. No one ever seems to get mad at other drivers. If someone has to pass, others help by flashing their lights to tell them it's safe, and they move over to give them room. Still, cars pass with inches to spare.

women with loads
Two women with huge loads.

taxis on street
There are four taxis in the middle of the traffic and a couple nicer cars to the left and right. Note the hand-drawn cart parked on the side of the street with coconuts for sale. There is a school girl on the right in a brown jumper and gold blouse. Public education in Ghana is highly promoted. Note the cell phone tower; everyone has cell phones in Ghana and Togo. The influx of cell phones a decade ago must have changed the west African society in a huge way.

The taxi dropped us near the market in Accra. But that's another post.

Next post: the market in Accra.


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