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Sometimes the stories of West Africa are short and carry a warning, like the one Eric (our driver) has been telling me lately about the beggars in Accra, of which there are plenty, plenty. If we’re stopped, and they come toward us, Eric brushes them off, never making eye contact, and saying “next time,” but Sit comes out as one word, “neztime.”
“Some of them are witches,” he says. “They look like us, but they are witches, you give them something, something and they turn it to blood.” I hear this story maybe once a week, usually as we are slowing to a stoplight. I guess he wants to make sure I remember. This time I question him, “its true,” he claims, “there was a report on the Telly.”
Now we’re driving up to a long line of cars, stopped for the red light, or policeman directing traffic. As we slow, I see the blind guys with the young kids who lead them around start to angle toward us. I used to scold them, saying “small boy, ah! he should be in school. Small boy needs his education.” I think for being blind they have exceptional eyesight when it comes to seeing Obrune in cars. Accra also has the windshield washers, who do it without asking and have their timing down to a science. Always finishing with still plenty of time for extortion, but Eric also brushes them off sayin, “neztime” and I don’t look them in the eye. We make a formidable team. But the crippled are the worst, I think, limping from car to car, collecting change, and I feel most guilty about not helping them.
[French speaking beggar I used to give to]
“Mr. Steven, don’t give,” Eric pleads, “they are witches!”
It seems there was a certain man in a car who came to a stoplight where there were five beggars. Because he pitied them, he gave them each some change or “some small thing,” as they would say. What he did not know was that one of them was a witch, and the witch turned that “small thing” into blood, and used that blood to steal his soul.” The story goes on about him never being seen again from that day on, or other times becoming a witch by the roadside, begging for change, “even now that could be him,” Eric says.
“So, I don’t give,” he says emphatically, point proven, and then to the beggar, “neztime,” but next time never comes.
Other times, a West African story is implied, but lost, so that what remains is the moral; a proverb if you will. Consider the proverb of the Tortoise and the Snail:
Had there only been the Snail and the Tortoise in the forest, there would be no gun-shot.
[snail – tortoise pic]
The literal meaning is the hunter could pick the tortoise or snail without firing a gun, but that isn’t the meaning of the proverb. Among the Akan, a gunshot is considered the first sound of war, and so the expression, “there has been a gun-shot,” (sic) implies that war has broken out, and if only there were no guns fired, there would always be peace.
But of course the forest is filled with more dangerous animals than the snail or tortoise, and so the hunter carries his rifle, and there will always be war.
Of course, Americans too have their own version for the Tortoise and the snail. It seems as Snail was crossing the road, he was run over by Tortoise. A policeman came along and asked how it happened. “I don’t know,” replied Tortoise, “it all happened so fast!” ba-dump-ba!
Finally, West African stories explain the way things work, like when a herd of goats on the road will scatter as a TroTro approaches, but the sheep will stand firm. It seems that years ago, when goats and sheep used to ride in TroTros as humans, as opposed to on top of them with the luggage and other things, there was a problem when it came time to pay. When you ride a TroTro, you pay when you get off, and the fare is based on the distance traveled. Goat did not have enough money, so when the Mate demanded the fare, Goat ran away into the bush. When it came time for Sheep to get off, he had only a large bill, but the Mate didn’t have change, and said “next time.” So the goats scatter when they see a TroTro its because they know they the Mate will come after them for the fare. The sheep stand on the road, forcing the TroTro to stop, honk, or nudge them out of the way, because they waiting for “next time,” and their change.
[goats – at edge of bush]
[sheep – note: pic taken of them still waiting in the road]