Since I've arrived in Ghana, I've come to find that the best experiences happen in taxis. This is the setting for making new friends, purchasing necessities, traversing uncharted territory, learning Twi and pushing the limits of a small engine. I practice my best negotiating phrases and flirtatious grins in order to even get a chance at adventure. "Eh, my friend, how are you?" "Eh, sist-ah, I'm fine. How are you too?" And from there the dance continues until the agreement is reached and the driver says simply, "Sit down." Heck, I've had marriage proposals on the 10 minute drive home. I have a few regular drivers: Samuel (my main man and protector), who refuses to call me anything but My Madame, Joe who calls me Mommy and Kwame who gives a flat Mom, but pairs it with a toothy grin the size of Texas.
This afternoon, with Kwame as my escort, I set off on the ride home. Other than his repeated mantra of "Eh, the traffic-oh," Kwame doesn't speak a lick of English. The glass half full version of this scenario is that I'm forced to practice my Twi. The glass half empty is outlook is that I often end up in strange places and situations while under Kwame's care. One morning he fell asleep at the wheel, missed the turn to my office, and by the time I could gesturally explain to him that he was in la-la land, we were around the bend, over the river, and through the woods. In the time it took to turn around and get back on track, his mantra became, "sorry-oh . . . sorry, sorry, sorry . . . sorry-oh . . ."
This afternoon, after the third or fourth repeat of the traffic mantra, Kwame took a sharp turn left, crossed oncoming traffic and paved his own path. I wish I could fully explain to you in such a way that you create your own visual of the "motorway." This two lane road is currently under massive construction. The two lanes are full of potholes and are caked with a thick crust of dust that rises in a colossal puff as the cars chug through. Most days I can feel the crunch of sand between my teeth. Alongside the "road" is what we all hope might someday become the two newest lanes of this disaster area. These two new lanes, still in the form of sand, are in some places blocked and in others open. They are not officially open, you see, but they are passable to the occasional driver looking to satiate his need for adventure. And the trick is that each day they are open and closed in different places, forcing one to outsmart the rocks and think ropes set in place to divert off-roading. However, for those braver than the rest, there is a small pass that is always open. One would think that the natural obstacle in its center would be enough to deter anyone and everyone. What used to be a puddle in the middle of a dirt path continues to grow into what is now a sizable fishing pond. Not literally because no fish would care to live in its thick, murky quicksand. Only the officially insane would try this route in anything less than an Army tank. Except Kwame. And Kwame drives a compact sized Kia.
Kwame continually pushes the bounds of his luck by attempting this route, each time causing me to hold my breath and pick my feet up from the floorboards of the car for fear that the extra pressure will surely cause our demise. Most certainly we've managed to float through this Ghanaian mini-swamp each time, the engine drowning and the tires struggling to find something to hold onto.
Last night there was a monsoon. This morning the entire city was bathed in mud and even the smallest potholes were full of enough water to float a ship. And here goes Kwame banking a hard left and heading toward the lagoon to dodge the traffic. And here goes me trying to communicate through gestures that we were sure to sink, or at the very least have to get out of the car and push while waist deep in quicksand. Oh Kwame . . . he just couldn't get it. I tried all of the English he might know: "No." "Car spoiled." "Water." "Are you sure?" I tried a quick game of charades: Rain, deep, chug-chug, row row row your boat. But all I got in return was, "Eh, the traffic-oh."
As we approached the bank of Lake Michigan, Kwame hesitated. He looked around for another driver to which he might inquire about its depth or seek advice on the power of his Kia. He looked at me and I know he saw fear. It was at that point that we heard the honk, honk of an insanely impatient tro-tro driver behind us. It was sink or swim time, but we were going. Once again I held my breath and picked up my feet. This time I leaned as far forward as I could hoping that at least a little bit of body weight could add forward momentum. The engine revved and we could tell that we were losing power. I could see the circle of ripples in the mud slowing down, a visual story telling us that we were doomed. And then . . . it happened . . . a Monday afternoon miracle! I swear that it was the wake sliding off the bow of the tro tro that pushed us through. The two feet it sent us was enough for the tires to find something solid and with that we eeked out on the other side. The engine let us know its distaste for the adventure as it smoked and steamed. I exhaled a heavy sigh, clapped my hands and let out a cheer, not for Kwame's skilled driving or the rescue waves sent by the tro tro, but for the fact that today would not be the day I had to splish splash in that stinkin' puddle. The problem is that I don't know if crazy Kwame realizes his luck or if he thinks it was just another day in paradise. I guess I'll find out on the ride home tomorrow.