Always Arrive Early

Part 2 of my globe-trotting, “I don’t know what I’m doing here” experience.

Last Monday, I ventured from Tamale to Damongo, where I would meet another EWB volunteer – a Junior Fellow by the name of Ryan Voon. I would be job shadowing him to get a good indication of how a District Assembly operates. But before I could start learning, I needed to travel across the Ghanaian countryside.

Early in the morning, I got to the tro station and waited patiently. A tro tro is a smaller bus or van that takes people from town to town at an affordable rate; in this case it cost me 5 cedis. I got there around 6:30 am, but it didn`t depart until around 10. The downside of the affordable ticket is that you have to wait until the whole vehicle fills. If I had taken the MetroMass instead (a more luxurious Greyhound-like bus), I could have bought my ticket in advance and left at a predetermined time.

We started out of the station and on our way to Damongo. Due to some unfortunately antics that took place (kicking a passenger off the tro midway into our trip due to some arguments), we got stuck at a roadblock for 2 hours. After he joined our party and we got going again, we arrived at our final stop around 4. So, all in all, I waited for 3 hours before travelling for another 6 before getting to my stop. Keep these figures in mind for later.

Since my Monday became a wash, I could only share dinner with Ryan before retiring to my third guesthouse of the week.

At the Damongo DA, I met most of the senior officers and other staff. At lunch, we had some great discussions on the project that Ryan was working on – revenue mobilisation. Unfortunately, one day was all I had before I needed to hop on another bus to get to my own district.

So Wednesday morning rolled around and I was all packed and ready to go. Based of my previous travel experience, I was thinking that the bus that my EWB African Program Staff (APS) and coach Binnu was riding on from Tamale would take about 4 hours to get here. Boy was I wrong!

She had left at 6:30 so I was planning on leaving around 9:30 and tour the market for an hour or so. Unfortunately, my guess was way off. The MetroMass bus got to town around 9:00 making it incredibly efficient in comparison to the tro I was on. I called my local taxi driver, but no answer on the other line. (In Ghana, having the personal phone number of a few taxi drivers is very critical, especially if you go off the main road and are out late at night.)

Luckily, Ryan saved the day and had a local government employee pick me up at the guesthouse and drive me to the station. Just in time too. The bus was just rolling out as we got there.

So, moral of the story: I should have followed my own motto of `Hope for the best, plan for the worst.` The worst case in this story was a really fast bus.

Sometimes other countries can have really slow transportation systems. But other times they can be even faster than those we have at home. It is far better to be too early and wait a little extra then to be a few minutes late and completely ruin one`s plans for the day. Luckily for me, my karma was still doing a pretty good job.

Safe travels.


Always Pay Attention

I was only in Tamale for 4 days, but what a jam-packed adventure those few days were. So much to learn, so many sights and sounds to experience, and so much to gather before I arrive in Bole for my actual work to begin. For the first couple of days, I was mainly living in automatic mode – getting supplies and enjoying my surroundings.

On Thursday, I went to the market in Tamale (first time by myself) and it was going fine. Got phone credit, some juice for our Fufu pounding party later in the evening, and some very crucial TP. Then I had to share a cab ride with some locals. Still going good as this point. Shared taxis or “Drop-Ins” only cost 60 pesewas, which is approx. 30 cents CAD.

But then I got a little too confident on the ride home, thought I was at the right stop and decided to get out with the other passengers. Big mistake. I was lost!

Such an saliminga (“white person” in Dagbani) move.

I walked and walked but nothing looked familiar. The dirt road I was on wasn’t turning into a paved one like I hoped. None of the shops matched my mind’s eye. Luckily, I trusted my gut and asked for directions. After turning around, I found a mosque where some elderly gentlemen were gathered. Tried to chat but their Dagbani was much better than their English. Turns out I was just a few feet away from the road I was looking for – Old Gumani Road.

With the help of a young man – Isaac – I was able to find my way to more familiar shops. Unfortunately, I hit a second snag. I forgot what my house looked like, as I arrived only the night before in the dark and wasn’t paying enough attention.

Luckily, I asked the local kids where the other people who looked like me stayed and they were happy to tour me to the right destination. I’m sure they found it quite funny to have me rely on them. Only a short walk up the side road and I was met with the familiar sight of a large mango tree and one of the many, many goats of the area. Home!

Moral of the story: When travelling to a new country and an unfamiliar city, pay extra crucial attention to any and all landmarks. Especially when the slightest difference can get you lost in a hurry.