Tuesday, December 26, 2006

On the outside looking in...

Boxing Day -- Thanks to the lingering influence of the Brits, Boxing Day is a holiday here in Ghana. Can't complain about an extra day off. BEP and I decided to hop on our bikes for a few hours of local riding. The fact that we can and do hop on our bikes and zip around for several hours without having to consult a map or ask for directions (a futile exercise here in any event) suggests that Accra is becoming home. In many ways it is, but today's ride also reminded me just how "other" things still feel and how much more I have to learn about this place I'm calling home for two years. I see. I kind of know what I'm seeing. But I have only the most superficial understanding of it. A few examples might illustrate.

A few minutes after setting out from home, we passed the airport. Just outside the entrance, a mini-city has sprung up along the side of the road of vendors and people sleeping, praying and waiting. They are, I have heard, pilgrims taking part in the Hajj. Ghana has a significant Muslim population so it is not surprising that people take part in the Hajj. But what is the story behind this mini-encampment? Is it just the result of people caught in travel snafus that have left them stranded (that'd be my first guess) or some more complex story. We ride by.

At the next major intersection, we come across the usual array of hawkers selling food, auto parts, you-name-it, but mixed among them are people dressed in jumpsuits made of brightly colored scraps of cloth and rather frightening looking masks and wigs. They seem to be collecting money. I've been told this is a Christmas tradition (it looks more like a mardi gras outfit than anything I'd associate with Christmas) but what is the origin, who takes part, why? We ride on.

At the last major junction -- Atomic Junction -- before we hit some open road (actually it is a congested area that lasts at least two miles) , we find ourselves in the midst of the ever-popular relatively good-natured game of chicken that plays out on the roads throughout Ghana. We do battle with the tro-tros that are packed to the gills with travelers and weaving on and off the shoulder to pick up and drop off passengers with alarming irregularity. Somehow, everyone seems to know where the tro tro is going and when it will stop. I'm told that the hand gestures are the key -- they all look like frantic waves to me. Perhaps someday, I'll decode it all. We make it through unscathed and hit the open road. At last I feel at "home" -- on a bike, going fast and headed to the hills.

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