Buses and Bushes: a Journey from Kumasi to Accra

It was just after 6 p.m. when I arrived at the station.

The sun was sinking in the sky as I lugged my bag across the dusty lot in Kumasi, in Ghana’s Ashanti region, where buses leave for the capital, Accra.

“Craw, craw, craw, ten cedi,” I heard over the din, which means “Accra” in bus travel-speak. That bus wasn’t a terribly healthy looking creature but I handed over my money. A man who smelled rather pungently of alcohol whisked my bag from my dubious hands and tossed it in the underbelly of the bus beside sacks of bananas, chickens tied in bundles by their feet, and other regular bags.

I had figured out a schedule for my return to Accra. I’d go to the station around 5 p.m. The bus would leave by 6 p.m. Given the length of the trip and probable levels of traffic, I would arrive in Accra no later than 11 p.m., at which time I could go home, sleep, and be back at work early the next morning.

No sweat.

Buses do not leave on a set schedule. Rather, they will trundle out of hodgepodge stations when full. How long does that take? There is no telling.

The bus was – if you engaged a little wishful thinking – one-third full when I climbed aboard.

“Hello, I would like to be friends, what is your phone number please?” said the first man who slid into the seat beside me. He would be the first of four who wanted so badly to go to my country that, apparently, they’d even put up with me as a wife to get there. All were politely rebuffed.

The fifth man who sat down offered me a church pamphlet, and wordlessly began to read his own.

“Craw, craw, craw, ten cedi,” the driver called, and the sky faded to black and the chickens wriggled and clucked in the belly of the bus.

“Wanna bet when we’ll get to Accra?” I asked my silent seatmate.

The digital clock at the front of the bus read 7:02. He looked forward and back at the people filling (with a little wishful thinking) half the bus.

“Maybe by 12 at night,” he said.

“Craw, craw, craw, ten cedi,” the driver called, while the chickens wriggled and clucked in the belly of the bus.

“Now what time do you think?” I asked my seatmate.

The digital clock read 7:57. He looked forward and back at the people filling (with a little wishful thinking) 60 per cent of the bus. “Maybe by 1 in the morning,” he said.

“Now what time do you think?” I asked my seatmate.

The digital clock read 8:53. He looked forward and back. There were only three seats still empty.

“Maybe still by 1 in the morning,” he said.

The driver’s mate brought some bags out from the belly of the bus. There was my bag and a bundle of chickens there in the aisle. One, perhaps two, were dead.

We left after 9 p.m.

The bus trundled through the night for four hours. There are no bathroom breaks and the chickens clucked and smelled a little foul. A few people felt quite uncomfortable as we thumped and bumped over the last stretch of potholes before Accra.

Then a gunshot went off.

Or rather, what sounded like a gun shot. It was actually a tire blowing up.

It was 1:35 a.m.

We found a suitable place to pull over, sheltered behind a tractor trailer that was stuck in the ditch. Everyone piled out of the bus (except the chickens) and milled around. It was very dark in the middle of the forest. Grass higher than my head lined the roadway, dark and impenetrable against the paltry flashlight on my cell phone as I searched for a place to pee in the woods.

The place I found was not very good. Within seconds, a flashlight illuminated my rear and I heard peels of laughter from the direction of the tractor trailer.

In my haste to cover up, there was a mix-up between my trousers and my underwear regarding which goes on the outside. At last we boarded the bus again.

My silent seatmate pointed out the confusion between my garments and politely looked away, using his church pamphlet as a shield while I rectified the situation.

No chickens moved as we drove back to Accra.

It was 3:17 a.m. when I arrived home.

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