Monday, October 4, 2010

A Hitchhiker's Guide to Ghana

Okay, okay; first thing’s first: no, I’ve not accepted any marriage proposals; I’m referring to the age old mode of transportation. A taboo in America, it is, unless you want to pay for and suffer the woes of public travel, one of the fastest and most reliable ways to get around Ghana. It’s also, I’ve found, a great way to meet people.

Aside from being impressed with the generosity of Ghanaian motorists, I’ve come to quite enjoy the experience of ‘hitching.’ The first few times were a bit jarring, trying to find an appropriate subject on which to expound, but it’s since become a kind of adventure in and of itself. I’ve met a great number of interesting people, many of whom were taught by or befriended Peace Corps volunteers in their youth. I’ve also managed to form a collection of very eclectic conversations, including the politics of ‘raising Ghana’ to the cultural differences between our two countries (and various plans to make me marry and stay forever). No matter who picks me up, they are always interested in my thoughts (they’re also amazed at the length of time I’ll be here).

I’ve caught a lot of rides in semi trucks – they’re an easy bet because they’re probably going farther than I am; cars are harder to gauge. Sometimes I catch trucks and SUVs; the welcomed addition of air conditioning and ridiculously fast driving make them a hitcher’s paradise. When asked why they pick up hitchers, most people invariably say that they’ve got empty seats and are traveling in the right direction … so, why not? I’m sure some of them pick me up because I’m a harmless looking white girl, but from what I understand hitching is an acceptable form of transportation if one’s willing to wait for it.

Some cars fly past without a second look, but most of them find some way to signal to me and explain why they aren’t picking me up … which I find adorable. I’ve seen various forms of ‘flailing of the arms’ to explain that he/she isn’t traveling far; sometimes it’s a brief honk and flash of the headlights to acknowledge my presence, but no empty seats for me; lately they’ve been stopping and offer to take me as far as they’re going, where they have helped me find a way to continue to my destination. All in all, the whole experience is as inviting as any other experience I’ve had in Ghana and completely different from what I’m used to.

The other day, I caught a ride with a couple of truckers from Burkina Faso. Upon realizing neither of us spoke a language the other could understand, we sat in companionable silence for two hours and, every so often, offered to buy each other food and water along the way. At one point, they stopped to pray (both being Muslim) and I sat and read in the cab, declining their invitation to join. A moment after returning, one of the men turned to me and said, “America o Canada?” to which I replied, “America,’ and got various positive motions and sounds – one of which included a definite, “Obama!”

With as untrusting as we are in America, the hospitality of Ghana has been refreshing. Sometimes I’d rather sit in silence, but for the most part, even if the conversation is much of the same, it’s a completely different experience. Who knows, maybe I’ll be more open to picking up hitchers in America, having been in their position? For now I’m content to learn about Ghana one person at a time. I mean, we’re both traveling in the right direction … so, why not?

PS. Hitched a ride in a Ghana Police car today! woowoo!