Tuesday, November 6, 2007

8 months riding on four wheels

September 10

The top-heavy tro-tro heaved left, then right, and teetered into a mud hole. The engine revved, people were silent and I checked that I had my Yukon health care card (no idea how it would help on a mud road somewhere between Togo and Ghana.) Again, a heave right, another sway to the left and the trees came too close. The van full of 30 people and a gaggle of children came close, dangerously close, to tipping over. All but the back row, where we were sitting, exited carefully and slowly. Later the men would laugh about the hole as they wiped mud off their shoes. At the time, no one was laughing though.

Such was how our final tro-tro ride began in the tiny village of Kpalime in the central part of Togo, near Ghana’s border this week.

Traveling by bus with 30 Africans is a mobile glimpse into a slice of life on this continent. The women we shared nearly 10 hours of time with were mostly Muslim, market women. We carried our small backpacks while they carried rucksacks full of onions, maize, buckets of oranges, baskets and children. We spoke English and French, they spoke Twi and Hausa. The language of endurance is universal though. We ate, pissed, endured angry border officials and police officers and sang along to Celine Dion together. We ate the same food, felt the same cramps that come from sitting in the same position for hours and felt the terminal heat.

When a small child fell asleep on my shoulder I was reminded of the community we’ve been part of, and for the most part welcomed into during the past eight months. At times it’s been trying, frustrating and just damn hot. Other times it’s been beautiful, warm and peaceful.

Later, the child’s grandmother helped hoist me into my seat, flashing a toothy grin and shifting her right butt cheek when she knew I needed a bit more give on my left butt cheek. Now that is giving.

The mind moves swiftly when the body is forced to stand still. I couldn’t help but think about the parallels between eight months in this country and how so many of the emotions I’ve felt here I also felt during that tro-tro ride. All that is frustrating, endearing and glorious about this place rolled out of me as the bus weaved through dusty villages and into the capital city of Ghana, Accra.

Take the heat, the absolute requirement of patience, the woeful smile of a child, the stern eye of an elder. The smells, the joy of feeling like I belong, and then the realization that I don’t and won’t ever. The hierarchy that guarantees I am ushered to the front of the line is also the same hierarchy that says a woman eats when her husband tells her to. The authority, the guns, the covert bribes exchanged between the tro tro-driver and police along the way. All of it close and personal and again, to my eyes, gloriously disastrous.

Am searching for meaning, for connections to this place during our few final days here. I am anxious to return to Canada but not ready to let go of the adventure and my final tro-tro ride quite yet.

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