Ch3: Road travelling

Chap. 3: ‘Go and come!’ The socio-cultural dimensions of travelling

  • Travelling to Accra: modalities, status and socio-economic backgrounds
  • Framing journeys: everyday practices, customs and encounters
  • The importance and significances of travelling
The first chapter on travelling takes into account the social, cultural and economic contexts in which common road travel in southern Ghana is embedded. I begin with depicting the motivations, modalities and financial means which people travelling by public transport (trotros, minibuses) consider before setting off for trips. This involves a look at the changes in travel habits which have occurred in recent years due to growing availability of mobile phones. I then explore how road trips are embedded in various quotidian, but also customary (ritual-like) practices that involve people in complex acts of communication at the outset and the end of their trips. What emerge in the course of trips, through interaction and communication, are a particular sociability and a sense of ‘mobile community’ among passengers. I finally look at the significance and importance of travelling in a society that views the physical appearance/presence of people, in some contexts, as highly meaningful and that regards travelling as linked to status, consumption and modernity.

[Overview Chapter 3]

Nighttime travel

07-03-13_2

Traveling in the night with Ashigame, a 50-years-old driver from Suhum. He is a bit older than most of his driver colleagues, and that’s why he has many regular customers. He likes working with market women whom he picks up in Accra in the evening, together with their goods, and drops them off in the villages on the way to Suhum. The ladies know each other by name (the driver as well) and happily converse during this evening journey in various languages. During that trip I sat far in the back, next to some sweaty women, their baskets and sacks. On the last bench - the one higher than all others in this type of Benz bus - sat a young and seemingly exhausted woman. She soon dozed off and would almost have fallen out of the open window if her friend had not given her some slaps on her laps. – I was able to take this shot on the road when the driver’s mate turned on the light inside in order to collect the fare.

The presidential convoy

07-04-07
His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Ghana, traveling on 'my' road!

It seems that all things which are of utmost importance in Ghana are moved in convoys over the country’s roads. Take for instance the large bundles of Cedi notes of the Bank of Ghana, or important chiefs, government or regional ministers and the coffins of big men who all get escorted. Including the President himself. You really can’t miss these convoys when they pass by as they are announced from far with the screaming sirens, horns and warning lights of powerful vehicles which make up the speeding entourage.

I found it quite impressive how the President of Ghana is escorted. The advance guard is formed by police motorbikes, also referred to as dispatch riders, which zigzag across the road and bring the oncoming traffic to a halt. They are followed by black and heavy SUVs, including the armoured government vehicles - all with sirens, high beams and warning flashers. The President’s vehicle doesn’t have any number plate but displays the coat of arms on its front and the national flag on the side. The exact same model – however with covered insignia – speeds along with the fleet, in case the President should have to change the vehicle. Finally, an ambulance is usually sent along, too, as crashes within (or because of) the presidential convoy have occurred in the past. Just like the other day in Accra...

While others are sleeping...

mini-06-08-22_18

... I have to be working. At least that’s the case for the bus rides from Kyebi to Accra (or vice versa) which can be long and exhausting. After setting off from the bus station many passengers soon doze off and only wake up again when the road becomes particularly bumpy. Or when the inside temperature rises drastically due to a traffic jam. But since I’m not just an ordinary passenger but rather have to do my fieldwork, I’m supposed to be awake and attentive. For my job is to observe what goes on on the road and inside the vehicle, how bus drivers work and how passengers arrange their travelling routine, etc.. Anyway, it would be utopian to believe that Ghanaian minibuses offer the appropriate environment for taking a relaxing nap.

Accra-Kyebi

gab-im-bus

Last Tuesday [06-08-22] I travelled from Accra to Kyebi. It was my 30th bus trip since my arrival six weeks ago. Luckily I was given a seat just behind the bus driver which allowed me to have a perfect view on the driver’s manoeuvres and onto what was going on on the road. Next to me sat a small boy who wanted to play with my camera, which his mother wouldn’t let him do. So he started crying, the driver threatened to beat him and he (the boy, of course) soon fell asleep. He wouldn’t even wake up when we had to take a detour on a bumpy ‘bush road’, about 30km before Kyebi. Once again an articulated truck had tipped over and was now blocking one of the busiest motorways in the country, i.e. my field of research.
It was a friend-driver from Kyebi who took this picture. He was waiting at the same lorry station for his turn to load his minibus with passengers and came over to our vehicle for a chat.

Experiencing the Accra-Kumasi Road (AKR):

An ethnographic project on roads, commercial driving and everyday travel in Ghana [more]

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Ch1: Accra-Kumasi Road
Ch2: Inhabiting the roadside
Ch3: Road travelling
Ch4: Passenger's body
Ch5: Commercial driving
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