The evening was dark and the air crisp as we embarked on our journey to Accra from Ghana’s Western Region. It was not much past 7:00 pm but the quiet, urban roads made it seem as though the whole of the country would be asleep.
The route home was anything but smooth, potholes causing our tro-tro to veer from one side to the other. The vehicle remained silent despite being at full capacity, including three passengers per four rows, plus the small child strapped to his mothers back. We were approximately two hours into our seven hour journey and I had finally managed to reached the point of dosing off.
As my head rested on my hand against the window, I was Instantly and abruptly brought to attention. I was temporarily blinded by the headlights of oncoming traffic as we were forced between the two lanes of the highway.
Initially, I was overwhelmed with confusion until the realization sunk it; we were going to crash. The two left side wheels gripped the road side gravel and pulled the vehicle further off the road. We were now driving on a downward slope into the ditch. I tried to balance my body and grip the seat in front of me – as I was convinced we were going to roll. Without the option of seat belts in Accra’s public transportation, I was planning a way not to be thrown out of the window beside me.
Again, I was abruptly brought back to the moment with force. Our vehicle had stopped. I could see the broken glass in the windshield and we were now completely surrounded by darkness. The silence was piercing, nobody moved and I waited for the baby to cry.
Realistically, it may only have been seconds, but we sat silently for what felt like hours. People slowly began speaking and confirmed everyone was alright. Finally, the baby cried and we knew he was alright.
Slowly we emptied the vehicle. Some exiting through the sliding door into muddy water, others using the windows to avoid getting wet. Minus a few cuts, bumps and bruises, fright was the largest injury any of us endured.
After assisting passengers out of the car, we gathered in the pitch black and stood on the side of the road. It was getting colder and the mosquitos were in full force.
We stood there, questioning our next move. Vehicles drove past, some honking but none stopping. Finally a taxi came and the driver of our tro-tro jumped in to go retrieve assistance is what he said. The rest of us, about 12, continued to wait. Slowly, vehicles began to pull over until finally a police officer and taxi driver, both smelling like liquor, came to assist us.
“Where are you from?” A man asked.
“Canada,” I answered. “We are Canadian.”
“Canada? Very good, very good. Don’t worry we will get you out of here safe.”
“We’re fine,” I answered. “We can wait.”
People began speaking in Twi arranging a solution. My Canadian colleague and I stood silently and waited to be told what to do. After a characterized discussion, we were directed to get in the taxi by a police officer. I was hesitant to oblige.
“Take the kids first,” I said. “We’re fine – get the kids home first.”
They continued to herd us towards the taxi.
“Go, get in,” they said.
I didn’t like it. I resisted.
We weren’t hurt, we weren’t scared. We were fine and we could wait, just like the others. Yet our strong requests to be left were ignored and we were ushered into the vehicle with our four local friends. We were driven to the nearest police station where we would find an alternative means back to the city of Accra, still an estimated three hour drive east.
I will never know why we were cared for first. Our friends said it was because we were the only ones from out of town -yet my mind could not help consider alternative motives.
I reflected on a conversation between myself and a professor on ‘preferential treatment’ – also referred to as ‘white privilege’. I don’t want to be arrogant to suggest this is an example of either, but it was a feeling I could not ignore.
Still reflecting on the conversation with the professor, I recall him saying ‘we’ (foreigners, white people) will be given certain privileges and it’s us who will decide if we accept. I thought about how often this must happen without us recognizing it. Being served first, receiving access to resources or a certain quality of materials. I have begun to wonder how often this takes place and recognize how often I consciously or subconsciously accept this preferential treatment – we had all been on the same bus, endured the same experience yet we were first to be cared for and I didn’t like it.
My mind was stumped and my emotions twisted. We drove from the site of the crash, leaving the other passengers to stand on the road. We would never know how long they had to wait or if the driver ever returned to assist them as he had promised.
Privileged treatment was something I attempted to avoid, and while reflecting on that pivotal conversation with the professor, was something I felt I had agreed to in that moment.
In the end, we made it home safely – and the lessons gained will remain something I carry with me.