Savannah Machines

Dear Nii Kpakpo,

I come your way again with another missive and this time it’s about transportation up here in the savannah. I think I may have told you in one of my earlier letters that there are no trotros (minivans) in the savannah. Not that they are not here at all but just that the ones you see around are not like the ones you see in the cities doing shirt distances from point A to point B.

The minivans here ply the villages and towns around the epicentre of the savannah but you won’t find them running in the streets doing inter suburbs like you will see from Circle to La or Teshie in Accra or Bantama to Tech Junction in Kumasi.

The mode of transport in these parts is a taxi and like our American friends say it’s a shared taxi. Some of the routes have nice taxis whilst with others at times you wonder if you are sitting in a car or just a contraption that at times has no floor since the dust from the road soon engulfs the car. If you are unlucky, both the dust from the road and the car exhaust will all come into the car and just when you thought how worse can it get, you will realise the windows are not working so you can’t even roll them down.

Kpakpo! I tell you the Jews must have suffered and the feeling I got when I was caught in such a situation was stifling – like I was dying. And the driver got angry when I opened the door because he was worried a motorcyclist will run into the door and break it.

Wow! That rickety vehicle is worth more than my life in his estimation I guess.

It’s been very comfortable living in the savannah with it’s relatively cheap transport fares. However for a social person like me, it gets inconvenient when I’m out late and can’t get a taxi back home. Luckily your sister found an apartment near the epicentre of town and I can walk home. But more often than not I wish to drive home or be driven home. In a place that shuts down after 10pm – that is changing very fast – it is difficult to move freed about without a machine on a weekday especially.

So in essence the best form of transport in these parts is the motorcycle. The motorcycle is used for everything even more than a car. Motorcycles are used for transportation and you will be shocked at some of the things they are used to carry.

Kpakpo I was really fascinated when I first moved here seeing the stuff folk carry with their motorcycles but gradually you get used to it as the norm. Imagine carrying roofing sheets on your head on a motorcycle. How about buying a wardrobe and having a friend ride pillion and you both carry it on your head. Want another scenario? Goats and livestock are normal to carry from the abattoir to the market.

Ok one last one: there was this time I saw a guy actually carry another motorbike tied to the back of the one he was riding. That was the height of the ability of using motorcycles to carry loads in these parts.

Oh heck! When my fridge broke down and the repairer came for it, he put it on the back of his ‘mapouka’ motorcycle – what we call ‘shah mi no gbo’ in the capital. Man! I helped him place it on the bike and tie it down.

The introduction therefore of the Motor King, a mechanized motorcycle with a tipper bucket to carry goods, is a welcome relief in the service provision industry. They render the services that trolleys offer in urban markets. The only thing that is on the negative is that the young boys who drive these motorkings are the most reckless drivers ever and they are responsible for over half of all the major road accidents on the savannah roads.

Not having a machine here is tantamount to a sacrilege. Most persons own a motorcycle in this parts and with the number around you’d think there would be an initiative here to start an assembly plant. Let’s talk about that later.

Nii Kpakpo, I tell you, we attend functions and instead of cars parked there like in the capital or elsewhere in the urban areas, there are a zillion bikes parked. Went to the savannah polytechnic and there was even a motorcycle parking space for the lecturers just like we have parking spaces in the ministries and government agencies parking lots.

We go to functions at the stadium like the Shatta Wale concert and other concerts or just to watch soccer and more than half those people on the field came with their motorcycles. The motorcycles are cheaper to use since they consume less fuel and relatively convenient to move around.

There are people here Kpakpo who have four wheel drive cars but have parked them and would prefer to use the motorbike instead of these cars. There is this woman I’m my office who has parked a Ford Explorer and is using a small twin engine motorbike. She complains that artisans come to her house and when they see the cars parked they don’t understand if she claims not to be able to afford their charges for work done on her house.

Instead of driving around in cars most people prefer the motorcycle for obvious reasons mentioned earlier and families of five or even more are sometimes seen on one motorbike. The father is the driver with a child sitting on the fuel tank of the motor, one sits in-between the parents and the other child is carried on the woman’s back. That’s a complete family of five on their way to a family outing.

This is a pretty normal experience.

Kpakpo, there are several types of motorcycles and they don’t come cheap. The least price for a motor bike in the savannah is Gh1650 which is quite a tidy sum if you ask me. I have really wondered how much those big bikes we see the naija boys especially on the university campuses make a lot of noise with cost so I can compare to the bikes here. That will at least give me a fair idea what we are dealing with.

The motorcycle is one of the things you see everybody having around here and therefor assume that with the way it’s predominantly the
Mode of transport it’s price will be reasonable because of market forces so that everyone can afford it but no it’s not. Kpakpo I find myself comparing it to the first time I came to the savannah and saw the way the women and girls all wear African print cloths no matter what they are doing or where they are going. This led me to assume that the prices of cloth in savannah was cheap until i went into the cloth market to make enquiries. It was then that I realised that cloth was even more expensive here, in some cases, than in the capital.

So how can they afford all these cloths they wear daily and these quite expensive motorbikes and still want to go seek greener pastures in the capital city, where they hustle to get the things they get easy up in the savannah.

Pretty confounding if you ask me my brother!

Really beats my mind but I guess it is not for me to understand with my puny mind.

Nii Kpakpo, the other day I took a cab and I was in a hurry to get to a meeting and when the can got stuck in a pool of mud I I paid the can driver his full fare although we were only halfway to the destination and whilst I was walking away he was speaking his local dialect as if to say that we were abandoning him. As a fellow passenger later explained, he was talking in cliches and proverbs as if to lay curses on our head for abandoning him. I had already explained that I had to be at a meeting at which in was already late.

But I found it interesting and funny that he would be ‘cursing’ me in a language I could not understand and seeing my point my co-passenger also laughed it off. But hear him ‘ Boss, you need to get a machine. You can’t depend on taxis everywhere you go in this parts. With your own machine, you can go anywhere.’

That is the inspiration for this article.

I thought to myself, if only my mother could hear this man speak she was going to strangle him. Imagine one time she called me and I was riding pillion. Somebody had given me a lift on my way home. The woman nearly had a coronary in the capital. What will happen when she hears now I got myself a machine. She knows she brought up a son who is too headstrong and wild to be riding a motorcycle about town – one of the reasons we never had bicycles as children.

Well let’s wait and see.

Nii Kpakpo Thompson, the savannah machines abound and are for convenience but as to whether your sister will let me get one is another debate raging in my house. That one is even worse than my mother and has no intention of becoming a widow any time soon. We have to gather resources and rather get a machine on four wheels and covered instead of two wheels and dusty open air.

Well, I have said my piece. When you finally come over you will see how the motorcycles dominate the savannah. We still do not have an assembly plant here but I noticed the Chinese have come to our a warehouse here where they distribute spare parts for their brand of motorcycles.

They are really making money off us and yet we say there are no jobs. How come foreigners see our streets paved with gold and we only think we can make it in the capital city.

Nii Kpakpo, food for thought until I write again next time.

Keep well!

Your Cousin in Law
Savannah Boy


Nii Kpakpo, when you come over and you see people dressed in Italian 3piece suits and French shoes looking all dandyish and flashing a key chain with exotic keys with alarm systems, don’t you for one second conclude that these are multi millionaires just trying to flaunt their wealth and the keys to their fancy cars. Just hold on until they walk into the parking lot of motorbikes and you see them press the alarm systems to their ‘tomos’ or ‘shami no gbos’ aka mapouka.

Savannah folk have a way of making the guy driving the Mercedes E Class in the parking lot seem inconsequential. A silver coupe in the parking lot is lost in a sea of motorcycles with anti theft alarm systems.

There is even a joke (not tried it yet though) that when a guy with a car and another with a motorcycle are rivals to courting a savannah lady, the lady will obviously choose the gentleman with the motorcycle because when push comes to shove, she can borrow it for a while and guy will keep it fully fuelled.

Kpakpo! Plenty matters.

I’m out..


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