Road Traffic Accident

12 04 2008

Firstly, an apology; in my last post I described Mum and Ellen’s phone calls as occasional. They are far from occasional, both phone me every week regular as clockwork. Their calls are eagerly anticipated and greatly enjoyed. Contact from home has tailed off a little this year and any sense of being remembered, whether a phone call, text, email or even a “wave” on Facebook is hugely appreciated. The women in my life seem much better at keeping in touch than the men, and it’s sometimes surprising who does make contact and who doesn’t.

I’ve had my first (minor) road accident and my first bout of illness. Both were extremely mild and remind me of how fortunate I am. The illness was a simple affliction of mild diarrhoea for a few days, which serves me right for eating my own cooking, and it didn’t stop me from going to work. It did leave me somewhat washed out by the end of last week though, since it coincided with my IT forum. Compared to what some volunteers have suffered it hardly counts and all contributes towards the slimmer Tim.

Motorbikes and electricity are two of the things I’m most scared of here. The standard of wiring here is lamentable, in a country that seems to have only one design for living room furniture there are at least three different types of electrical socket, and they all spark whenever something is plugged in. So far I haven’t actually been sent flying across the room in cloud of blue smoke, but it’s a matter of time I suspect.

As for the motorbikes, apparently they’re largely unregulated and untrained, with a cavalier attitude to safety. Ghana is a strongly religious country, with an attitude of “leave it to God” and “its in God’s will”. This seems to result in a belief that faith is more important than care on the roads. Stickers with religious texts obscure the windscreens of cars and lorries and it isn’t unknown for Tro-Tro trips to start with a prayer. The lack of resources means that most vehicles are overloaded and under-maintained and often simply inappropriately used. I’ve seen motorbikes with bicycles strapped to the back, the handlebars constituting a major threat of impalement to the pedestrians, and I regularly see motorbikes and push bikes carrying sheet metal, making them effectively six foot wide. I also saw a bike with the cyclist completely invisible behind a large sheaf of firewood taller than him, while he unsuccessfully tried to peer round. Motorbikes are quite willing to leave the road and swerve onto the pedestrian area in order to pass a slow moving vehicle, expecting people to get out of their way. In fact motorbikes are quite willing to weave in and out of pedestrians if it’s easier. Don’t even think about night time, almost no cyclist have any lights at all and many motorbikes don’t bother with headlights, believing that switching them on reduces the life of the battery. Combined with dark clothes and dark skin this makes many of the road’s users almost invisible at night.

Whilst I haven’t actually witnessed a serious accident yet I’ve seen plenty of evidence. As well as plenty of broken glass and plastic shards by the side of the road, travelling between Tamale and Accra you see burnt out Tro-Tros by the side of the road as well as upturned lorries. In February there was a nasty crash near my house, when I came home after going to a football match the crumpled remains of two vans were on either side of the road, a Ghana Telecom van lay on its side having destroyed one of the new street lights and an orange van on the other side of the road was firmly lodged in the storm drain. I strongly suspect that not everyone walked away from the scene.

My little accident was a lot milder. I was cycling to my friends Rik and Dinny (Dutch VSOs in Tamale) and was clipped by a motorbike while crossing a roundabout. I was tipped on to the road and the contents of my basket were scattered, but apart from a tiny graze on my knee neither my bike nor I were hurt. In fact I think the motorcyclist was more shaken than me, he even followed me to make absolutely sure I was alright.
 

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