Sunday, January 11, 2009

Don't! Don't ! Please Don't Wipe the Windscreen!

Some Ghanaians who live abroad but are considering moving back to Ghana mention the heavy traffic in Accra as one of the things they are not looking forward to living with. To this, I usually offer my very unhelpful two cents which is that I don't really deal much with traffic here. I leave home for work before the traffic builds and head back during the late hours when it is so easy for me to whizz home, one would think I owned the streets. Maybe it is because of this that I actually enjoy seeing the sellers on the streets; Because I don't see them during the week, on the few times when I see them during the weekend, I initiate conversation with them, ask their names, buy stuff from them and romanticize the whole experience. So far, that works for me, and even when the tro-tro drivers cut infront of me from nowhere, I just patiently wait and shake my head, not sweating the small stuff. I used to get so disorientated when as a new driver, people would honk at me within moments of the light turning green. Now, four months on, I've joined in the honking to encourage drivers infront of me to move whenever traffic lights turns green, and I do it with a devilish grin and such relish! Hey, they say if you can't beat them, join them. I am settling in well. So all is dandy, right? Wrong!

There is one group of street-people in Accra that I would love to see thrown off the streets - The boys who wipe the windscreens! And even though I only have to suffer them a few times during the weekend, our encounters often leave me fuming and distraught. These boys usually approach your car when you've stopped either because of traffic or red light. Then they proceed to wipe the windscreen of your car with some funny contraption with a foam attached which they first dip into some bucket of soapy water before beginning the wipe job. On a few occasions, I've been able to stop them before they've begun wiping, but most of the time, they spring up on you, and don't bother to ask if you need the service before they begin cleaning so they're halfway into the cleaning job before you are able to say anything. Sometimes even my protests fail to stop them. I can't begin to tell you how deep under my skin these boys are able to get. There have been days when I've felt so exasperated at the hand-wringing futility of my attempts to stop them that by the time I am once more on my way, I who might have approached them feeling calm, happy even, am bereft of all humor. What really irks me is that once they've completed the job which you did not order, they ask you for coins. The way I see it, since I didn't employ them to work, I shouldn't have to pay them so I don't ever give them money. In any case, they're not really offering that much value. As I write, my car is very dirty because I haven't found time to go to the washing bay, wash it myself, or get someone to do it. Now if these boys in traffic were actually offering something of a decent/thorough cleaning job, I'd consider paying them. Instead of cleaning only my windscreen, if they also wiped down the body of the car, so that I could leave with a clean car, not just a dirty car with clean windscreens, maybe I would begin to appreciate their efforts. There are two things I don't like about these boys. One is the fact that they don't ask drivers if they should clean before they do, but just shove it down our throats. Second, is that they think they can just come and do something as little as wiping a windscreen and get paid for it.

There is also another group of young boys who try to make money by doing very little work. I speak of the boys who start filling pot-holes in streets that are ridden with potholes and then expect that because they've filled two out of a hundred potholes on that street, every driver passing at that time owes them money. I don't mind these people either; If they're really serious about working for money, they can find other means of employment.

I mention these two groups of people because they point to one phenomenon- Our young boys trying to make a quick buck and feeling entitled to your money because they've offered you something with no thought on how valuable their "service" really is to you. Seeing this attitude in boys who are not even fifteen years old is really bothersome.

I'll end with two questions. Do these people bother anyone else? And secondly, are some people grateful to have the boys cleaning their windscreens in traffic or filling potholes? If most people like having them there, then maybe I just need to take a chill pill, but if they're just as annoying to others as they are to me, we should take them out!


  1. Esi, Reason 1 I hate these boys is that they are dishonest and pretend not to have seen you, and the next moment, they are scratching your windscreen.Reason 2 is the tributaries of soap suds that they leave on the dirty body of the car. I hope one day to drive over the foot of one of them...just kidding.

  2. When I started driving I hung up my L sign after a day and that ended the unnecessary honking at me and bullying by trotro and taxi drivers.

    On the boys by the road side I think they are a sign of the times, poverty and unemployment. I believe those who fill the pot holes are somehow a bit useful, i.e. until the nest rains brings to nought their work. However I would rather have them standing by the roadside begging for money than for them to take it away by force with a gun pointing at me.

  3. Yeah Esi, but we take them off the streets and they do what? That's a huge part of their life what they're doing: it's their work, their play, their school and their childhood.

    I'll bet 10 bucks they wish their lives were otherwise. But in this country where the dispossessed masses are nobody's concern, what are their options? And all the other 'hustlers' like them, what's there to do apart from what the are doing?

    I'd like to believe that perhaps this new government will bring some change in this area being that they were voted in mainly by the frustrated masses. But since I learned early not to put any hope in politicians, perhaps we can ask another question: what can WE do about this situation?

    Please hit me up if you have any answers because I'm searching.

  4. Their 'soapy' water is filled with sand that scratch your windscreen too. The bothersome bit is that once I told one of those vagabonds off, and he smeared soapy water all over my windscreen in defiance! Talk of hopping mad!... A 'pothole guy' also hit my beloved poor preowned car once cos i didn't give him money... Why are they so angry? Do you own a gun i can borrow?:-))

  5. I think the windscreen and pot-hole guys are doing a small, albeit good job (have your windscreens REALLY ever been scratched? I believe this to be an urban myth). Just like Esi, I rarely find time to wash my car, so I appreciate when I can look out though a clean windshield.

    Let me also add the traffic director guys, who when traffic lights are broken step in with some tree branches to direct traffic. I think it is clever and helpful, hence I am not annoyed at all.

    Sometimes I will give "something small" other times, when I haven't asked for the service or rarely drive on the road that is being temporarily freed from potholes - I dont.

    A tip if people seem aggressive and you dont want to pay, say you'll "Go and come". Works better than any weapon. Shooting the poor? I think thats a horrible idea.

  6. @Nana Yaw, you dare not drive on the foot of one of them because the whole gang would pounce on your car, and the plantain chips, ice-water, and phone unit sellers would all join in tearing your flesh of your bones:)

    @Nii Ayi, i feel you on doing without the L sign. My mother tried to get me to get one, but i refused because i wanted to pose cool:) You do raise a good point about the boys though. i.e. better that than turn to vice.

    @Debbie, see i don't mind the street people so much. I just wish they'd ask before wiping. Is that too much to ask? I'm not one of those who thinks we shd take them all out, gentrify the city, put them in school and make gentlemen and ladies out of them. All the plenty school i go, see what good it did. These kids work, they make money, support their families, keep the economy going, and many of them are actually happy. You should hear the conversations they have. I think a lot of times we sit back and wish for an alternate life for them when in reality, they're enjoying life more than we who claim to be living the life are. My friend Thomas and I have been discussing whether the we need to redefine poverty or use different metrics for assessing who is poor because some of these people are happy where they are, they eat well, their basic needs are met,they get plenty of exercise,they live life on the streets when others are busy learning about life in schools. So to answer your question, maybe they should keep doing exactly what they're doing.They're living the life! I don't think we need to do anything about them.

    @Kayna,if you were a third party looking on on the scene you just described, you'd find it mad funny:)But i suppose it's not funny when it's at your expense. In the "funny home videos" version of what you've just described, you'd get a gun, aim it at them and it would somehow fire in such a way that the bullet goes towards you and grazes your arm slightly...just enough so that it's funny and not fatal. haha.

    @Kajsa,do you really have to be the voice of reason and kill the joy of bashing these people? We don't really mean to shoot them hard...we just want to shoot them a little. hehe. But jokes aside, you make some good points.I'll try to see the good in what they're doing. I just wish they'd ask me first. I love your "You'll go and come" excuse. You should read Mark Twain's "On the decay of the art of lying" which encourages us to perfect the art of telling wonderful lies like that.

  7. Kajsa, as Esi said, I didn't really mean to shoot em! Or I'll rot in prison.:-)

  8. ok! look at de big least they are not stealling from u in colud be worse u know...besides they are making a living for themselves...
    its better to give dem a coin now n den...

  9. I don't know that I agree with giving the boys at the side of the road money. If you ask me, it encourages them to stay on the streets when they could find other things to do. Yes, I know it would be hard in some cases, but not all. Plus we've all suffered at one point or the other, no matter how minimal. Like they say, success comes in overcoming the obstacles we face in life. But some of these boys seem to have taken a seat and gotten comfortable with their current lives, resisting change.
    I'm sure there are many businesses and homes in Ghana who would appreciate a good hard-working "house-boy" or watchman or driver. Instead of risking being hit by a car (or having their feet run over) they would be fed and paid and sometimes even taken through basic education. The problem with some of these boys (like many other young children) is that they don't realize the value of an education or of a safer way of doing things. And thus may end up stealing something from their employers or doing sth that would cause them to be sacked from the home or expelled from school. Then we're back to square one.
    All I'm saying is in most of their cases, all they need to do is get up and make an effort. The govt or better-off citizens of Ghana can't feed them everything free of charge. The shoe-maker who supported and/or fought for the NDC will remain a shoe-maker regardless of how many new jobs there are, until he makes the effort to further his education and thus become more qualified. Mind you, some of the people by the side of the road, take the money you give them and use it on drugs and other illegal things instead of supporting themselves and their families as we would hope they would. Oh, and tell me why on my way home from work yesterday, at the Elwak-Cant'ments Post Office-37-Aviation traffic light, I saw about 4 guys, whose legs looked just fine, sitting on make-shift skateboards begging for money. And those guys weren't there two days ago (I know because I use that road at least twice a day everyday including weekends).

    Of course I can't generalize for all the people on the street because I'm sure some of them have actually tried and have no other option. But for the most part, giving money to the young boys supports their new-found "businesses" and encourages them to stay instead of making the effort to move off the street. That's my reason for not giving.

    ~ Awula

  10. Esi, one clever way of stopping them is to start your screen wiper when the traffic stops you. That way they don't get to do it.

    Talking about valuable service. How about those dudes that control the traffic when the traffic lights stop working. How about them too ???

  11. Esi, i so understand where you're coming from. Couldn't stop laughing at the windscreen boys.It's so true. I'm planning on moving to Ghana from London by the end of 2009, and when I was in GH in Dec, I couldn't stand these boys. They really got under my skin even though I was never in the driver's seat. I'm really not looking forward to driving in GH, although it's very necessary. We always wipe down the car in the morning before setting off into town. So our car is really never that dirty, so what do these boys want!! But just like Henry said, my dad always starts the wiper so they don't attempt to approach the car. But sometimes we fail to get there on time, and it seems more like a who will get to the screen first??

    How about those people that sit in a wheelchair and pretend to be paralised. Don't get me wrong there are some genuine ones. But I was told once, that there was a dude in a wheelchair begging for money in traffic. He must have been at the wrong place at the wrong time, because there was a big truck approaching him with ''full speed'' and he managed to get up, pick up his wheelchair and run out of the way. Ei Ghana!!! I'm really looking forward to moving back...only to some extent though. I can see myself getting easily frustrated.

    Keep up the good work girl. Loving the blog. Glad you gave me your card at Rhapsody's

    Nicola Sackey

  12. @ Nicola, yay to moving to Ghana! I know i'm always telling people we'll hang out and then I never do but it's a new year. I'm sure we'll bump into each other a lot once you're here. And oh, congrats on making the cover of CANOE quarterly! Do you know how cool that is? I only have one article in there and i'm still telling everyone to buy it and you, you're on the cover! okay, sorry i got carried away with the awesomeness of it all.

    lol@ the wheelchair guy. Ghana is way too much fun:)

  13. imagine how shocked i was last saturday night driving within central London, looking for a club, got to the traffic light some Indian dude came to wipe the windscreen!! even after we said stop..and then we had to give him two pounds..rubbish..but me i was in too much shock to even say stop..cos i din even know they did that outside any thrid-world country...sometimes i really wonder about England, for real.

    ps. Ghana IS way too much fun tho. looking forward to moving back.

    n i love ur blog, brings back fond memories.