A Captive Audience

Advertising is everywhere in Canada, and a developing country is no different. People take every opportunity to sell you things, and nowhere is safe from people trying to deliver their message, not even the inside of a minibus.

I learned this lesson during a trip to Ningo, a small town about an hour outside of Accra.

The journey began with an hour-long wait for my trotro to leave. During my wait I learned that I scare small children. A small boy sitting on a bench with his mother spotted me and started bawling loudly. His mom thought her son’s fear of white people was hilarious and gestured for me to come over and pick him up. I declined the offer, not wanting to traumatize the kid any more than my existence already had.

Finally the minibus left the station. A man wearing a gold necklace with an emblem of the African continent decorating his chest hair stood up and began to say a prayer for our safe journey, something that made me feel more worried than anything.

The topic changed seamlessly to herbal remedies. I sat watching Accra fade behind me as our orator informed his captive audience about the benefits of sexual enhancement pills which we could buy from him for only two cedis or about $1.50 CAD.

When the salesman sat down and I thought the live infomercial was over, a woman no older than 20 took his place in front of the bus. She had nothing to sell but her belief about the afterlife. In a mixture of English and Ga she told us all about Jesus in as loud and grating a voice as her small frame could muster. The fiery sermon slipped in and out of song and a few passengers joined in the choir while the rest of us stared blankly out of our windows. After what seemed like forever this 21st century Joan of Arc sat down and accepted a few coins from her makeshift congregation.

We spent a couple hours in Ningo collecting interviews then caught a a trotro heading back to the city. My fingers were crossed that this would be a more peaceful ride than the one that brought me here. My prayers weren’t answered.

A clean-cut man in a vibrant stripped shirt stood up right in front of me with a dozen DVDs in his hands. This guy combined the young woman’s religion with the first man’s commercialism like the second coming of Jimmy Swaggart. Titles to his DVD collection included “666 and the Mark of the Beast,” followed by “The USA and New World Order.”

The end of the world is coming, according to our minibus preacher, and his DVDs are the only way to avoid damnation. They’re normally five cedis but today for some reason they’re only one cedi. Praise the Lord.

“You’ll want to spend your money when the Apocalypse comes, but then it will be too late,” he told us.

I was surprised to see money passed to the front of the bus and DVDs passed back as we drove by tar paper shacks in this country where a cedi is all a lot of people can afford to spend on food each day.

Maybe you can get blood from a stone. Well done, preacher man. Well done.

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