Kicking cars and taking names

…Well, mainly taking names, interspersed with trying to get cars to go away. Today I finished the first of my network studies, which involve asking managers of internet companies who they know. And then asking them again. And then getting them to look at their cellphone contacts and asking some more. Until everyone involved wants to die. But it’s done, at least till they hire some new staff and I go back there to do some more interviews in a couple of months.

So today was mainly walking around, taking trotros, finding people, waiting, finding more people, waiting some more. Appointments here are more a jumping-off point for negotiation than a firm commitment to be somewhere. They’re aspirational – a metaphor for what would happen in an ideal world.  So one waits, one goes and does some other stuff, one contemplates, one waits some more. And eventually, the person turns up and you have to fit what should take an hour into fifteen minutes. But if you can do it, the sense of achievement is monumental.

A day full of ordinary things: Austin, the guy who sells coconuts, which are the perfect filler for when you have missed lunch waiting for someone and they may come back any minute:


and getting around. Mainly doing this on trotros, but the taxis just won’t give up. Obrunis seem to be the main group who hire taxis just for themselves (everyone else uses shared ones that travel known routes, like buses), so taxis get excited at the sight of us. As you walk down the street in the morning, every single taxi (i.e. every second vehicle) honks at you in case you want a ride. What really gets them going, though, is an obruni who appears to be tired, or sick, or otherwise flagging. It’s like lions going after buffalo – they target the old and the infirm. I was walking slowly back this evening, deep in thought and having inhaled enough exhaust fumes to kill a rhino, and turned round to find I had about five taxis lined up, following me hopefully up the street, with the rest of Accra hooting at them to move on.

Here’s my commute:

ring road rush hour

ring road rush hour

For some reason the photo doesn’t pick up how thick the air is by 5pm, but you could stand a spoon up in it. It’s like putting your mouth to an exhaust pipe. Never mind. Next week I go north to Tamale, where they have air.

One comment

  1. Ah, so it’s Obruni in Ghana, in Nigeria it was Oyibo, a word I heard a great deal. I also remember the kind of air you are talking about around the roads – like breathing petrol flavoured treacle that had been left out in the sun. Odd as it may be to be followed by a line of hopeful taxis, I do rather wish that I could get just a teeny bit of that taxi-power here in London where standing on a freezing pavement desparately scanning for an orange light has become far too familiar an experience!!

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