Monday, August 11, 2008

Getting Back on the Road

Sometime in late 2002, I completed a driving course, and after only barely passing my driving test, was issued a Ghanaian drivers license. At that time, I did not have access to a car and I left Ghana soon following that so I never had the chance to practice my newly acquired skill. It is now 2008, and I have returned to Ghana. During my six year stay in the US, I drove only twice, so you can imagine how well that prepared me for the Accra traffic. I’m dreading it. I can’t see how not to be overwhelmed in my first few days on the roads. Thankfully my license had not yet expired so all I had to do was renew it, which I have. Technically the renewal of the license is the only requirement for getting back on the roads but it seems to me that in actuality there’s more that needs to be done. So In addition to renewing the license, I’ve decided to brush up my driving skills to reduce the likelihood of causing any motor accidents when I get on the road. I’m really mostly doing this so I’ll feel more confident, not out of any concern for people whose destinies might shoo them into their early graves-my car being merely a conduit for their inevitable demise.

On Monday August 4th, three days after my return, I headed to East Legon America House in search of the driving school I attended six years ago only to be told by the lady who oversees an internet café which is situated where Sir Kwat driving school used to be that she has no knowledge of any such driving school. What a difference six years makes! She promptly and pleasantly informed me of a different driving school, located farther up the same street, and close to “Living Room”, a self-service theater / room where I hear the younguns of this day troop for their love fixes. Having patronized the “Living Room” on one of my visits home about four and half years ago with a certain someone who shall remain nameless, and who did not so much as try to get a kiss, I knew exactly where to find this new driving school. On I walked. On the way, I noticed new buildings on both sides of the street. I also found a sign which read “house to let”. As I am currently on the hunt for a suitable place of my own, I rang the bell to the advertised house. A sweaty, particularly dark-skinned, Ashanti-looking man popped his head out of the compound and quizzically stared at my face, mute. My jumbled up twi tumbled out of my mouth and I uttered a stream of mumbo jumbo. Wonders! He understood! He may even have smiled, though I think the smile was the product of his bemusement that a small girl like me thought I could afford a four-bedroom house in East Legon. I stifled a laugh. We were thinking along the same lines, so when he told me the price ($1500/month), it probably did not surprise him that I grinned whilst declaring that wei deE me sika nso (translated: I cannot afford this), but he graciously averred that “Ohemaa, nansei deE saa o” (Queen, these are the going prizes these days). My charm had returned from wherever it lurked, and I sweetly sing-songed that “Director, eno deE me da se wai” (Thank you, Director…it is good practice to refer to Ghanaian men as Boss, Director etc…it establishes that you’re showing them respect and they in turn respond favorably). It also helps to be decently dressed. I was wearing khaki chinos, brown sketchers and a navy t-shirt from with pretty white lettering in a font whose name I don’t know that reads “true Ghanaian”. A few more minutes of walking and I found the driving school on the top storey of a two tiered building with the words “Nadel Driving Academy” boldly displayed at its front.

I raced up the stairs jumping 3 steps at a time, and without catching my breath opened the glass door which led me face to face with 4 people, 3 men and one lady. Punctuating my words with my labored breathing, I asked in twi if I should enter to which the big boss-like man responded affirmatively. I later surmised that the young apuskeleke-ish girl and the young man who could have passed for Obour’s twin, were new students. Nadel the owner was the one appropriately sporting the growing pot belly…a true osikani belebele :) The receptionist who seemed somewhat Hipc-ed (Ghanaian slang for poor) introduced himself as Nana Kwame but only after I had asked him if he had no Ghanaian name. He had initially offered Seth, Evans or some equally incongruous name like that. As we’re on the subject of names, I should also mention that I had initially thought that Nadel was a nice Ewe name but without consulting my head, my big mouth sought confirmation for the name’s origin. And I was disabused of my erroneous notion and educated that the NA in Nadel was for Nana and that the rest of it was culled from other Akan names which Nadel has combined in some funny permutation. Abaa gbe wO ei! In response to my query about their rates, Nana Kwame handed me a one-paged sheet which summarized what they call their “course categories”. The prices ranged from 220 Ghana cedis for the beginners course to 135 cedis for the brush up course. After questioning Nadel for about 15 minutes in an unsuccessful bid to get a customized course at a low price, I left upon promising to return the next day to begin the refresher course.

Having descending the stairs, I spotted a heap of unshaved oranges atop a table a few yards away. I strode there, selected a sharp knife and began removing the rind off one of the oranges and was nearly half-way finished before I saw the orange-seller rise from the bench under a nearby tree where she had been napping. She finished the business of peeling the rind, sectored the orange and took the money. In typical Ghanaian fashion, I squeezed the orange with both palms whilst simultaneously hungrily suctioning the juice onto my expectant tongue. Then leaving some of the juice, I went to sit under a patch of green grass in front of someone’s posh house to eat the orange’s insides. I didn’t care that a well dressed lady (debatable), sitting on the grass under a tree with crossed legs, eating an orange, and wearing nappy hair and a cowry dangling from somewhere was an unusual sight in Ghana. Whilst resting, I sighted some big assed women walk past. If I’m not mistaken, all the Ghanaian women I’ve seen in my time here have had bigger asses than me. It’s almost impossible not to look. The asses resemble what is popularly known as the ghetto booty but these are not merely ghetto booties. I can only describe it as a obscene, and in-your-face kind of butt. Living in the US, I’d convinced myself that I had a big ass for someone my size, but in my few days in Ghana, my confidence has been zapped. The worst part of it is that at least in the US, ¾ of the women who had bigger asses than me had fat asses. But in Ghana, even the mammoth asses appear tight, no cellulite or so it seems. Thank you, Ghanaian women for making me feel inadequate. After a while, I continued my journey home. I decided on the way to research other driving schools in Madina the next day before I committed to Nadel’s academy. On Tuesday morning, after enjoying half a ball of kenkey, peppery salsa and fried fish for brunch, I resumed my search for the cheapest driving school in the Madina/East-Legon area.

This time, I first walked from Madina Taxi rank or old road to a driving school near Rawlings circle at Madina New Road called O.B. Y driving school. When I poked my head into their sparsely furnished reception area, I was invited in by a smartly dressed receptionist. She inquired from me how she might be of service and I stated my mission in twi. When I started, an inscrutable expression formed on her pleasant face, but thankfully, she subsequently switched from English to twi and provided me what information I wanted. From O.B.Y, I proceeded to Keda driving school at Madina Zongo Junction where once again a female receptionist furnished me with a sheet detailing their rates and different course levels. I suspended my search for a few hours when I left Keda as I had to dash to the Accra Cultural Center to see Liz Turnah (Remind me to blog about my conversation with the rasta men I met there who asked me to go buy weed so we could smoke it to initiate me into their family of rastas…I’m considering taking sewing lessons from one of them). I returned to Madina just in time to catch the receptionist of the Heaven driving school close to where Rank Video Library used to be (now a commercial hub – I exaggerate- for cell phone units credits). I raced after the receptionist and when I caught up with her, she was nice enough to summarize their course offerings. I thanked her profusely with what our people call kraman ahoberaseE (the humility of a dog) and skipped back to the filth of Madina Market where I hopped onto a trotro which brought me home to Ashale-Botwe. I paid 30 pesewas.

After my two-day search, I concluded that of the four schools surveyed, Nadel’s school offered the least expensive course for the most practical driving time but I console myself that I am now better informed. Maybe someone else can do research for their area and if enough people do this, in a year, we’ll have a comprehensive document comparing all driving schools in Accra. How sweet that would be! An excellent and useful thesis project for a college student! Or you could suggest to your sibling to use the time spent at home after WASSCE to do this project and s/he will probably get into US college on full scholarship for undertaking the first ever comparison of driving schools in Accra. I had fun doing it. I can almost guarantee that no other applicant from Accra would have done anything quite that cool. I’ll be happy to supervise. Also, we need a law that compels people who like me have licenses but have not driven in years to update their skills. If such a law already exists then we’re doing a poor job of sensitizing people about it because none of the people I spoke to at the driving schools knew of any such law. So am I taking lessons at Nadel’s Academy? Nope. I am taking lessons from a friend. I’m paying him 100 Ghana cedis, and I have already had the opportunity to drive on the Aflao road, through the Motorway, past the Tetteh Quarshie traffic circle, all the way to Ashale-Botwe. That's Ghana for you. Keep reading and feel welcomed to leave me comments.


  1. This article makes good reading.I totally agree with the issue of the need for the law especially now that there are so many road accidents.On a lighter note, Esi I often wonder why you chose to be a medical physicist, I see Ama Ata Aidoo in you.Talk to you later.

  2. Ms Cleland- Akwaaba -:) in reverse. Good break from wk reading ur already interesting exploits at home. Enjoy every bit of it...Phyllis

  3. Let's start a couple of web-based businesses together. I think it would really go places.

    Also, which friend is CHARGING you to teach you how to drive/brush up on the driving??@@@!!!##!!!???

    And who took you to the Living Room and didn't try and kiss you? We should take this young man round the back and beat him for not at least TRYING!!! Well, did you want him to try or not?

    Welcome back home - you did come alone but you are not alone on the planet.

  4. ok! abt the living room i'm sure u knew what happens when a guy takes u am sure u might have wanted more than a kiss else u wouldn't have gone...

    Abt the drinving! aba fresh, the ice still dey u! so ur friend should charge 150..e slack ooo..
    Oh yea ghetto booty..esi where u into ghetto booty porn..cus u sure sound like u watched a lot of it..


  5. I really think you should marry the rasta man

  6. Well Esi..this is a beautiful piece...i admire your zeal to speak the local language at all times and not unleash your american accent ...on them....I hope one day those of us still stuck in the US can go back home and experience all the wonderful things back at home in Ghana....

  7. Hi, great piece. Can you write about how you are adjusting to life at home - as in, how are people treating you? Do you feel like you (still) fit into Ghanaian society? or do you feel lost in limbo between the US and Ghana?

  8. Hahahaha. I hope i'm not the one who took you to the living room and didn't try to get a kiss. As I remember it, when I took you there, more than a kiss ensued! How is our neighbourhood doing?

  9. Sorry but it seems menopause has hit early for this Sarah Palin excuse for a ghana woman. Get a life and stop being so full of your damn self.

  10. Hi, just saw this blog. Am gonna make time to read it! Kudos...welcome to the blogosphere!!

  11. You write well Esi! And I'm glad you appreciate your booty!