If my brother Rod were to come to Ghana, he would want to ride the trains. Rod is a train guy, and though I used to hop freight trains in my high school years, I’ve never grown to appreciate The Trains like my brother.
That said, I’ve wanted to ride the trains in Ghana ever since I saw one pulling into “Circle” in Accra Central.
Trains would be the perfect intersection of adventure, misery, and unexplored territory.
Before I could ride the train, some reconnaissance was necessary.
The signboard leaving the Nsawam Station.
The Accra-Nsawam Train Shuttle Service begins in Nsawam, a busy town of almost 50,000. It is market day, so today it is especially busy.
I remember Nsawam from the days the Accra-Kumasi highway used to go it. Orderly colonial hilltop architecture meets modern Africa chaos punctuated by fresh oven-warm bread sold from any number of ladies heads.
Narrow gage, with steal rail road ties.
The train is narrow gage and runs from Monday thru Saturday, if the equipment is working. On the Saturday I am there, not expecting to actually ride the rails but more wanting to know how I might, the choice wasn’t mine: “The engine is spoiled;” I learned. “They have taken it to Accra for repair.”
Accra has this sort of mystical aura in Ghana, as if anything can be done in Accra, and anything that comes from Accra is better than anything available locally.
The door to the train office, that is not operational today, but neither is it locked. What I want to know is why didn’t I open the door and look inside?
For example the eggs I buy in the village. “Where are these eggs from?” I ask.
“From Accra,” she says proudly.
“But what of the local ones?” I ask. There are chickens running around everywhere, and I see, in many back yards, laying boxes, and sometimes, children sent out to collect the eggs.
“From Accra is better.”
Train schedule: first class, about one dollar, second class, 70 cents.
I am sitting with two guys on the bench who very curious as why to I am here. One is a medical herbalist, and he wants me to follow him to his car, “the car is just there” to let him heal me of “aaaany disease.” Ghana has these all over, today I’ve snapped, as they say, pictures of a few:
Yes, Ghana has a lotto, and Spiritual Man can tell you its numbers next time.
The Great Nana Ababio – Spiritual Father – for all your spiritual problems.
Apparently The Great Nana Ababio can’t physically protect his “office” he needs broken glass to do that.
“I am OK,” I tell the herbalist. Okay means good, sufficient, not wanting more, and very much unlike the American understanding of okay, which feels like it means less than good, but good enough to get by. Maybe the Ghanaian and American understanding is the same, its just that the Ghanaians –in their honorable since of fatalism–don’t expect anything more, and we Americans feel entitled to more.
“Really, I am OK.” I can smell the alcohol on his breath and think maybe there is a good reason why doctors don’t treat themselves, this guy has been sampling the goods.
Trains and Habours Police Office
The other gentleman on the bench and I can talk now that the
drunk herbalist has left. “You want to go to Accra, why?” He has a daughter who lives in Baltimore, and works in a bank. He has been to visit her, and ridden the trains in America. “Much better,” he says.
“You should take the lorry,” he advises using the older, colonial term from TroTro. “The lorry will take you much faster.” Then he advises the shared taxi, a taxi that drives a fixed route and a bit more expensive than the TroTro, (a small bus that only leaves when it is full, and by full I mean every seat is taken, every row has one more than it was built to hold, and what one would generously call an aisle, is packed full of standing passengers or livestock). “I want to ride the train,” I keep repeating.
Go right and you find the station. Go left and you find someone’s home.
Finally he tries dropping taxi, a taxi, which after the fair is negotiated, operates like one would expect a taxi to operate, unless the driver picks other passengers going that way, and then I’m never sure if I am paying, or subsidizing this ride.
This train car isn’t going anywhere, its somebody’s home.