Seth the hero

The longer you stay in a country, the more likely it is that you’re going to are going to encounter trouble.  The first truly frightening episode happened to me last Friday on the way home.

Myself and a colleague (another white female) had left the office to start the journey back to Kumasi. On this occasion it was just the two of us in one of the bigger trucks, with Seth – one of the best and knowledgeable drivers and general, all-round dude.  There is only one road which connects Manso-Akwante with the main Kumasi road and about 30 minutes into the drive, we hit a problem. As the picture below shows, a large lorry had jack-knifed directly across the road, completely blocking it. Behind it (out of shot) is another, smaller lorry full of sand, which was on its’ side, spilling the contents into a ditch. In the middle of the picture, you can see Seth (white top/black trousers) walking back to our truck, and in the foreground there is an example of the amazing loads that the ladies manage to carry on their heads!

I’m still not clear how the crash happened but can confirm that nobody was hurt.Whilst initially we only felt slightly inconvenienced, I was not aware of how quickly the situation would deteriorate. Seth confirmed that even in our powerful vehicle there was no way through but in the meantime, I had noticed some other vehicles in the queue behind us driving off the the right, so we decided to investigate.

Sure enough, there was a route around the lorries, which was a “track” (impassable unless in a good 4X4) behind some of the shacks that would eventually connect us back with the road. We could see that another vehicle had got through so slowly edged forward, and this is where it got interesting. As soon as the villages saw us, they immediately started dragging large logs/bits of trees/anything they could throwdirectly in our path to block us going through. Seth moved forward but we yelled at him to stop as nobody was moving out of the way. Immediately the car was surrounded by c.20-30 men shouting aggressively in Twi and blocking our path. It turned out that they were demanding money to let us through and hands were appearing at the window, along with the angry faces. Seth was yelling back at them and although I couldn’t understand the words, the aggression instantly flared and I genuinely thought it was going to turn violent.  My colleague Nika and I sat frozen with fear and spoke quietly to each other as the fracas carried on around the vehicle. We were in deadlock as neither side was backing down, so Nika and I agreed that we would follow whatever Seth’s lead was and would pay if that was the best option. I could feel my adrenalin running as I so rarely, if ever, encounter aggression, but I think instinct kicked in so I just tried to make myself small, not make any eye contact and slowly reached for the door locks.

Meanwhile, Seth had turned off the engine, opened the door and stood defensively in front of us. Although the amount they were demanding (a few cedis = a few pounds sterling) was not high, he confirmed later that he thought they were asking for more because we were “obroni” i.e. white. Although pride said “don’t pay”, quite frankly, if Seth said I had to give my last cedi then I would’ve done to get out of that situation.

The deadlock continued until the focus switched to a car which was trying to get past us, to go in front. Also more people from Millennium (further back in the queue) caught up with us and entered the “conversation”, no doubt backing Seth.  I’m not entirely sure what broke the deadlock but Seth suddenly got in the car and the villagers moved the logs out of the way. We bumped and jerked our way down the sides of the shacks, passing c.100+ people along the way, many with their hands out. We rejoined the road where the chaos continued as various vehicles were trying to shuffle around in a tiny space, however, Seth just put his foot down and powered through. As we pulled away, my colleague Nika and I were bouncing around with relief and thanking Seth for his protection and driving skills – HE IS OFFICIALLY MY HERO !!! His determination and protection were invaluable and I cannot thank him enough :-)

looking back, I know that this encounter could have happened to anyone, in any country, but I cannot help but feel angry. First of all, whilst impersonal, the situation was exacerbated by the fact that myself and Nika are white – something I have never encountered before, although I am increasingly used to being viewed as a potential cash point. Secondly, I am also aware of situations where investment is made in this country yet progress never happens, simply because people cannot be bothered. However, when a situation like this presents itself on people’s doorsteps, they will seize the chance to make money by taking advantage and using aggression. To confirm, I am absolutely fine – and yes, this makes for a dramatic blog entry – however, along with the 20 – 30 aggressive men who surrounded our truck and blocked our way, there were three times as many children who witnessed this and will have learned that this as “acceptable behavior”.  With or without foreign aid, charity work and interventions by well-meaning foreigners, my question to Ghana is, how do you expect anything to improve if this is what you are teaching your children? This is NOT your only option even, if for those involved, it was an easy one.