Monday, June 25, 2012

Conductors and Cadets (Week 3)

I would like to take some time to present a remarkable profession that I have gotten to follow closely, even a bit more than I would’ve liked: the tro-tro conductors (By the way, I managed to enter the one named “I’m Hustler”). Every car’s personnel consist of two men: the driver and the conductor (Actually, right after writing the previous sentence I got into a tro-tro with the first female conductor I’ve seen). The driver drives, whereas the conductor, usually a youngster, takes care of all other imaginable tasks. On the chaotic “stations” (randomly chosen roadside stretches, it seems to an outsider), they get out and start shouting out the direction of that particular tro-tro. When a lost westerner appears, looking for the car that will bring one safely home, these are the ones to, with 100 per cent accuracy, direct you to the right one. When on the road, the conductor charges you, according to the distance you will be riding. I have not seen a document stating any fixed rates, but the conductors always know the price and I have not heard of them charging foreigners higher prices. Often, you won’t get your change right away. The conductors prefer to charge all the passenger present in the car and later provide change, again out of memory and without mistakes.

Before the rain
The fact that westerners and locals most often pay the same price in tro-tros and for other services (which reportedly isn’t the case elsewhere in Africa) reflects the overall Ghanaian mentality, hospitality, honesty and sense of just. I think Guy wrapped out our feelings very well when he, after a couple of beers at the Hotel Paradise at Lake Bosomtwe, again astounded by the cheap taxi ride back, stated that “we like it here because these people don’t know how to exploit tourists.” There are exceptions, of course. One of the museums that we did not enter at Kumasi Cultural Center charges with no shame substantially higher prices for non-Ghanaians compared to natives of Ghana. I don’t want to make too big a deal of it, though, before I hear some kind of an explanation.

What potentially can make living here as a European more expensive that the Ghanaian lifestyle is that imported products are hard to come by and generally cost a lot. European beer costs about double the price of local beer, which by the way is very good. A liter of soy milk (not that good) will cost you about as much as a liter of dairy milk in Finland, which is a lot in this setting. A package of Nutella costs around seven Ghana cedis, over three times the price of my average lunch meal (I rarely eat Nutella in Finland but have a craving for it here. Why?). I am yet to even try buying European cheese but have already found out where to get it. To get these products you also need to take at least two tro-tro rides to get to Adom which can take over an hour to one direction and of course cost more money.

The tro-tro conductors also take care of spotting new customers when moving at a fairly high speed in relation to the condition of the roads and cars. This practically involves dangling out of the side door of the minibus, waving and shouting your heart out and eventually banging your fist on the outside of the hull of the vehicle to make the driver aware of the need to stop. The same will take place whenever a passenger wants to disembark. At this point, you simply loudly call out something like “mate” and gesture as clearly as possible that you want out. When imported to Ghana, the minibuses are rearranged and stuffed with more seats for the obvious economic reason of fitting as many paying customers as possible. This often means that if I, seated on the row of seats furthest back, need to get out, four or five people seated in between me and my relief from fear of crashing to my death also need to get out. Again, what would in Finland be seen as a shameful inconvenience and bad for the business (and what I like to call first world problem) is here simply an everyday necessity that really doesn’t do much harm to anyone.

It almost goes without saying that the conductors also take care of technical problems. A tro-tro I entered at Tech junction refused to start and the problem was quickly localized in the battery, which was to be found under my seat, between my legs. The conductor insisted that there was no need for me to get up and took care of the operation in what looked like a very uncomfortable position. I have to add that also the battery itself didn’t appear very reliable or secure. This time around the problem could not be solved without professional help and an electrician was called upon and arrived in about 40 seconds. He is called, believe it or not, Sparky. Another tro-tro died when picking up passengers. I swear to god, the conductor got out and single handedly pushed, in a very slight downhill, the minibus, full of customers, to a rolling speed high enough to kick-start the engine, after this catching the moving car and jumping in.

The rain
As for the YES Project, we have now gotten a local project manager, Robert, halfway through the planned first phase of the project. He seems very dynamic and resourceful and I’m confident that he will help us a lot in maintaining contacts to local enterprises and schools as well as simply in knowing his way around the town. We are now struggling, for many reasons which include national holidays, summer vacations, and our upcoming tour around Ghana, to find a convenient date for the seminar. I have to say the project is a bit stuck, which is frustrating since two of my longest lasting teammates, Jasmine and Carter, will be leaving Ghana in virtually no time.

When again visiting the Methodist Vocational Institute (many schools here carry religious names) in Kwadaso, I came upon an interesting habit. A bunch of what seemed to be older students, wearing uniforms, were practicing marching to the beat of a drum on the central plaza of the campus. Actually this reminded me of my service time in the Finnish Defense Force. My local guide, Cosmas, informed me that these people are called cadets and are found in every school. If I have understood correctly, all students have to do an amount of time serving as a cadet. They are responsible for the order and security in the school. What I find great about this practice is that, according to Cosmas, being trained as a cadet gives one good chances of employing herself/himself as a security guard later in life.

I am sorry to inform you that I have suffered my first loss in betting for games in the Euro 2012. I did make it through the group stage with a clean record though… My demise was a consciously risky, one-to-two-ratio, bet with a Portuguese girl, Joanna, for the Czech Republic to beat the Lusitanian in the quarter-final.

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