Mass Transit

A silver-bearded preacher stood in the centre of the room.

Passengers boarding buses in Accra

He was furiously waving a small, black bible in one hand, while the other hand remained diligently at his side, drowning in the fabric of a slightly oversized beige jacket sleeve. He was preaching at high decibel, in the local dialect, Ga –  I guess, since I don’t understand it.

His speech, peppered with God this and hallelujah that, was competing with the chatter of a scattered congregation. Those receiving the good word, who were seated in rows, or standing around the periphery, occasionally glanced at the preacher man.

I did too.

Not so much out of interest per se, but rather out of a distinct disinterest in the eventual boredom that awaited me in every other corner of the room as I grew weary of standing, or meeting another person’s awkward gaze.

It was a well-dressed crowd. Some wore traditional garb. Some were in business attire and others had clearly gone to the hairdresser before hand.

Despite his ill-fitted jacket, even Preacher Man was looking sharp, in a white collared shirt punctuated with a red tie, black trousers and polished black wingtips.

I opted for comfort over style, wearing black cotton pants, flip flops or chale wo tee, as they’re often called here by locals, and a pink camisole.

I stood out among everyone dressed for service, in their Sunday best.

In my defense, it wasn’t Sunday.  Nor was this a church service.

It was Friday morning and this was a bus station.

Not that it really makes a difference here in Ghana, because religious reverence isn’t confined to holy walls adorned with stained glass windows.

It’s present first thing in the morning, when I’m awoken by loud gospel music, only to open the window shutters and see the “God is my strength” sticker on my neighbour’s door. Or in the big bold sign at the Grace Almighty corner store – not to be confused with the God’s Grace Store, down the road from the Holy Spirit Hair Salon.

Though Ghanaians are traditionally animists and 25 percent of the population, primarily in the north, is Muslim, it’s often hard to believe that only about 60 percent of Ghanaians are actually Christian.

It seems like everyone is mad about Matthew, Mark, Luke and John here.

God is constantly referred to in conversation, proverbs, greetings and even Ghanaian names. One casual acquaintance has been inviting me to church since the day we met. I’m sure that I’ll attend service here… one day,just for the experience.  While I consider myself deeply spiritual, I’m far from church going, so I postpone our date every time. My response is usually met with disappointment. I suppose if I were as devoutly religious as so many Ghanaians are, I too would react the same way.
Wouldn’t you be disappointed to watch a friend not only spiraling down a path of self-damnation, but happily skipping along the way?

Back at the bus station, Preacher Man was wrapping up his sermon, which signaled the arrival of the bus heading to Kumasi. I was finally going to make that trip to my parent’s hometown, to be reunited with several members of my extended family, including my grandmother, who I hadn’t seen in twenty-some-odd years. I was excited of course, but I must confess, it was excitement mildly subdued with anxiety.

I heard that my 80 year-old grandmother’s health was ailing. Also, most of the people I was going to meet, for the first or second time, had existed to me only as names in holiday greeting cards or on the other end of static-filled periodic phone calls.

So I was feeling a strange brew of emotions when I boarded the bus.

Mostly, as I sat back in my rather spacious, 15-cedi-seat ($11 CAD),  I was feeling relief because I had been standing in a queue for almost an hour, waiting for this small luxury.

The whole trip was going to take about four to five hours, depending on traffic, so I braced myself for the loud Nigerian movies that so many travelers before me had said was the staple of the on-bus entertainment. With this little tip before the trip, I came prepared with a good book.

I reached into my purse and pulled out Richard Dowden’s Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, unaware I was about to experience a small one myself.

The bus started to roll, and the sound coming out of the sound system was some Ghanaian highlife from my youth.

It made me smile as memories of road trips with my dad came flooding to my head. As I dove into my book, another sharply dressed man a few rows ahead dove out of his seat and into the aisle.

He also had a book in his hand.

“Oh no…” I thought. “Jesus….”

“Christ, the man said, followed by some words in the Ga language that were peppered with God this and hallelujah that. He strolled up and down the aisle, as if he were trying to seek out those who “hadn’t yet been saved.”

I tried to avoid making direct eye contact at first, then I switched up my game plan, lest he decipher my fidgety body language and know I was the culprit.

“Hypocrisy is a disease,” said the preacher, again in a voice loud enough to ensure no passenger could ignore his message or sleep during the journey.

“If you want the Lord to answer your prayers, the first step is humility.”

“Amen!” replied, what seemed like, the entire bus.

Suddenly, I was praying, to any god that would listen, for a loud Nigerian movie, as the bus rolled on.

This entry was posted in Ghana, IYIP Educational Officer on by .

About Antoinette Sarpong

Antoinette Sarpong was born in Toronto and grew up in Courtice, ON. After living in Burkina Faso for several months during a Canada World Youth exchange, she attended Ryerson University, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2005. She then worked as a story producer at CTV’s Canada AM before moving to Osaka, Japan, to teach English and write features for Kansai Scene magazine for five years. A self-confessed travel junkie, Antoinette is thrilled be part of the jhr team. Her journey is coming full circle to Africa, and Ghana, nonetheless, the country from which both her parents hail. She will be stationed in Accra for six months, working as a media rights educational officer at the African University College of Communications where she will be producing a human rights workshop curriculum, and collaborating with AUCC students, staff and local journalists in a variety of ways to promote human rights awareness on campus and in the community.

2 thoughts on “Mass Transit

  1. isaac osei

    Hey Antoinette. I like this post….this is normal to me but strange to you. If they had the chance, they would be doing same in the taxis.

  2. Antoinette Sarpong Post author

    Haha, yeah, you’re so right Isaac. That’s totally true. Coming from a place where there are so many different religious denominations, it would be odd to see such a scene on a public bus, unless the speaker was claiming to be Jesus himself!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *