4 August, 8:00pm GMT - Trede, Kumasi
We've arrived at Kate Memorial Hotel, about a 30-minute drive outside of Kumasi. We'll be spending the next two weeks here taking daily outreaches in the Ashanti region with Charity Eye Clinic: ophthalmologist Dr. Kate Guasi, nurses Everest and Eric, and driver Adumako. The hotel doesn't have internet; we were told that it would be fixed tomorrow, but since the wired internet is out for the entire region, I don't see that happening any time soon. We have A/C, a fridge, a safe that the hotel doesn't have the key for, a hot water heater we can't operate, and hot breakfast every morning for $17.50/night. The hotel is relatively empty, but there is a film crew here shooting a movie about the gold industry. A few of the crew members came down to say hello and one asked to have his eyes checked; we tried explaining that we weren't doctors, but that didn't seem to matter to him.
Last night, we went out with all the volunteers in Accra to Venus, a Lebanese place with decent food and great atmosphere, followed by Vienna City, a night club where we got to dance with the locals and even met someone from Michigan. A taxi into the city is a 20 minute drive for GHC8 for 5 people; cramming 5 passengers into a 4-passenger taxi is common practice, but is technically against the law, and one of our taxis got pulled over by a police officer who yelled at the driver, then let the passengers go on their way in another taxi (still with 5 passengers in the car, strangely enough). This morning, we were told the van driver would arrive at 12pm, but since he had to drive the six hour route from Kumasi first, we were in no hurry and left for lunch at the Chinese place down the street at 2pm. We got a frantic call from the Telecentre front desk at 2:30pm when we were waiting for our food telling us that the driver had arrived and wasn't willing to wait for us. Apparently Ghanaian Mean Time only applies to drivers and not their passengers, but the food took so long that we didn't end up leaving for Kumasi until 3:30pm anyway.
The drive north was along the bumpy route with long stretches under construction over dirt paths full of potholes. It wasn't until we arrived that we found out there's an alternate mountain route we could have taken that takes about the same length of time to drive and is much prettier and smoother, and that the last time one of the drivers took volunteers up this route, the van flipped. That driver got fired for the incident, but we didn't know this when the volunteers warned us about the ride as we got into the van. Driving here must take an incredible amount of skill and awareness, because road lines are nonexistent or ignored; people, animals, and cross-traffic pass in front of oncoming cars without looking; and outside of a handful of traffic lights deep downtown, all intersections are unmarked traffic circles for major roads or side streets that dead end into main roads with no stop or yield signs. The speed limit is however fast you think you can go without hitting someone else. The most common practice for passing, turning, or merging is to honk your horn and push through; turn signals and yielding are foreign concepts here. In fact, we told one of the translators about how in North America people cross the street at crosswalks once all traffic has stopped, and she found that idea hilarious.
A group of journalism students from the University of Oregon are in Ghana as well right now, and I stumbled across their blog while researching for this one. One student posted a nice description of what traffic is like here. I wouldn't describe traffic here as an "intricate dance", though. True, there isn't a car crash or daily traffic jam in sight. Yet still, it's obvious that driving here is terrifying. You will rarely find a car driven by a non-professional driver. I have seen, on more than one occasion, a car stop in the middle of an intersection to have the driver get out, go up to the driver of the car in front of him, and start yelling. It's the equivalent of getting pulled over for reckless driving, I suppose. The system works, but I doubt it would stand if the car:person ratio in Ghana (33 cars for each 1000 people) approached that of the US (812 cars for each 1000 people).