Dear Nii Kpakpo,
The streets of Heaven are paved with gold. This saying reminds me that there is no heaven on earth literally and especially as African as we are, the only gold we are going to find is on streets underground where there are mining vehicles in areas such as under AngloGold Ashanti or the Newmont mines.
Kpakpo I sat on the back of a motorbike as I do almost everyday after work on my way home and I looked around me and thought of writing you this letter. Truly inasmuch as these savannah streets are government provided, you know our people will always make the rules for the street.
For example, recently they just constructed gutters to the main highway to my office at my district, Sagnarigu, and already this gutter is choked in some areas. Furthermore, even though the road is as bad as it is, some people have also constructed self-made speed ramps on it. As if anybody can go more than 20mph on that road anyway.
In fact, there are many tarred roads in these parts and what I like most about the region is that there are passable side roads that one can use to avoid the main roads if one so wishes. These alternate routes provide a welcome relief and actually give options so one can calculate and avoid any delays wherever one goes. Maybe that is one of the reasons why you don’t usually get traffic in these parts.
Nii Kpakpo, the savannah region is not any different from any urban city or town that is growing at a fast pace. Just as the whole nation is gravitating to the center in Hustle City, same way Tamale is the place to be when you are up north.
This is therefore causing the usual urban explosion with pressure on social amenities and the Metropole Assembly needs to raise their hackles if they want to rein in the growth and management of the town.
Back to the streets, they are paved with footsteps of people going about their daily lives and struggle to make it through every day. Everyday work goes on both blue collar and white collar, labor, toil and sweat and folk just go about their business.
Taxi drivers are taxiing, market mummies sit in stalls hoping to get clients for the wares in their shops, almost every street corner has a food seller catering for a hungry public, the pavement sellers are there in their numbers, the supermarkets are open, the sound of the multitude of motorbikes is unmistakable because they rule the streets, the motorking drivers embark on the reckless rampage with no regard to safety, and everybody just has to use the streets one way or the other.
It is an orderly chaos.
But above the cacophony of noise and movement, in the center of town is the unmistakable sound of the travel buses over the din of loudspeakers advertising trips to Accra and Kumasi, ‘one man one seat’ (comfort or enticement) like they are telling you if there is nothing here for you so you can head out south any time you want. Many people have been lured by this announcements and I must confess I was almost lured one time like that to do a quick run for a stint in Kumasi and back.
But I resisted. How many can and have, I really have no idea.
Nii Kpakpo, the dry season is here and it is time again for me to suffer with my dust allergies. With a dry weather, the wind carries all sorts of stuff from the streets. I have noticed that there are piles of refuse mounting in some parts of the town and this is not healthy if you ask me.
One good thing though is that the streets are cleaned every day after business hours so residents return to a central town with clean streets, then they make a mess again.
My concern is that apart from the main routes in the savannah, most of the roads are not tarred especially the side roads I talked about. These are good roads but government or the assembly hasn’t bothered to tar them. Once in a while a grader is released to level the potholes in these roads.
Maintenance of the streets is also proving to be a problem in this savannah region. Maybe because engineers don’t consider what kind of cars will be using the roads so they can make the roads to fit heavy vehicles.
Furthermore the sun has proven to be a destruction instrument because the heat on the road has led to it ‘folding’ in some parts. A case in point as any savannah dweller will tell you is the main hospital highway which is now so folded you will think it was the folds on the back of the neck of a fat glutton.
Kpakpo, they say the big trucks also contributed to the wear and tear of the roads but then what was the assembly doing whilst the road deteriorated. There is this particular stretch of road in the new stadium roundabout that has never been gotten right. In the few months that I have been here, that road has been renovated about 5 times and last time I went past, there were workers on it.
In a country where there is no money, they say, can we not just get this spot of road once and for all?
Kpakpo, I think I have told you about street life and culture in the savannah. I have been impressed with the fact that there are no homeless people, as in children and adults who sleep on the streets. It is true there are beggars on the streets, and madmen too, but they all go home somewhere latest by 8pm and will be back on the streets by 5 or 6am. It is quite impressive and mind boggling at the same time.
Unlike in the capital where at night when most residents are going to sleep some people are now spreading their wares at Circle or Kaneshie or wherever, this savannah land is virtually dead of any commercial activity latest by 10pm.
I once bought a toothbrush at 3am at Circle after leaving a night club and I still have the phone number of the fried yam seller at Odorkor lorry station who closes at 4am.
In the savannah, there is not even street gambling! I checked.
Usually the Asante boys are predominant in the street pavement selling. They sell shoes mostly, shirt and clothes and also drag carts around with durable items like batteries, shoe/hair brush and polish, extension boards etc.
They are mean and smart sellers who look at your appearance and determine off the bat how much you can pay for an item. Once they tried selling me Kumasi made loafers for Gh60 but when I went back in my sports clothes, on my way to the basketball court, I got the same pair for Gh20.
One day I was walking past another group of shoe sellers and an albino boy obviously wanted to tease these boys kept asking about shoes that he had no intention of buying. The sellers were angry and rained insults on the young albino boy as he laughed and walked away unfazed. But one of the insults caught my attention and I couldn’t help laughing.
One of the shoe sellers, a very quiet one who hadn’t even taken part in the exchange, just said in twi ‘it is not your fault, if we were in Tanzania, you would have made me rich’. The resigned tone with which he said it Kpakpo is what made it funny and the others laughed too and that ended the tirade.
It was in the wake of news of albino exploitation for riches in Tanzania where it was reported that people had the belief that albinos were magically powerful and and therefore were taking them to witch doctors to be killed so they can become rich. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_people_with_albinism)
The streets of the savannah are hard streets but relatively Kpakpo they are not as hard as that of the capital. Oh! There are the big cars on the streets. Did I mention that I have seen people (usually women) learning to drive on the streets with four wheel drive vehicles such as a Toyota Highlander or a Lexus LX480? That’s right!
It is predominantly American 4x4s here on the streets usually privately owned (you would be deceived to think they belong to the NGOs) and parked till Sundays for church or Fridays for the Jummah prayers at the mosque.
Every day on the street is different and usually no two days are the same although it might seem that way. There is always something interesting happening if you are looking out for it. Usually I have a spot a bit higher above the street that I sit or stand to observe the happenings of the central business district street.
Chale! The street scenes here are no different from any others that you will see in any part of the country but you and me will both agree that each city has its uniqueness. The savannah streets are not paved with gold but there are people, just like you and me, who are trying to find the gold, in whatever form it is, on these streets doing the best they can to survive.
Life goes on whether the streets are paved or tarred and we shall overcome.
Kpakpo, till I come your way again with another letter let’s try to keep our streets clean and safe.
A healthy mind dwells in a clean environment. Remember!
Your Cousin in law