Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Towed by Taxi

Taxis are nearly everywhere in Accra, and throughout Ghana as well.  Country or city, paved road or dirt lane, there's bound to be a taxi passing soon.

If you got no car in Ghana and need to get somewhere fast, this is great.  Flag down one of the orange-hipped wonders, barter your price, off you go.

On a recent trip to the US I told a friend that, if I walked out my front door and didn't find a taxi within two minutes, I got frustrated.  They were surprised at this.  I was surprised that they were surprised.  Then I remembered, "Right, the US don't got taxis like Ghana's got taxis."

One of Ghana's iconic orange-paneled taxis passing Accra's iconic
Independence Arch.

If you do have your own car in Ghana and want to get somewhere fast, however, the omnipresence of taxis is not so great.  And that's because taxi drivers here know how to behave as if they were the only thing on the road.

These guys (I've never seen a woman driving a taxi) are practically a force of nature, a law unto themselves.  If they push their way into an intersection in front of you (even though you have the right-of-way), or drift pointedly into your lane, or otherwise cut you off - let them.  They're more determined than you.  And, with their chariot sure to be already scraped and dented from the bump-and-grind of Accra traffic, they've got less to lose.

Taxis in Ghana are quite versatile.  They can take you across town to the mall.  They can get a bed or a dresser or a sofa or a mattress home from the store for you.  They can take you and your 200 yams to market.

They can even be tow trucks.

On a recent weekend trip to Ghana's Volta Region, my car broke down.  Now, if I was stuck on the side of the road in the US, my procedure would be something like: call a tow truck, get car to mechanic, wait while mechanic tries to fix.

Here, I just flagged down a taxi.

The driver took me to the nearest mechanic.  He took the mechanic and me back to the car.  Then, when the mechanic said we should get the car to his nearby shop, the taxi driver broke out a dirty length of rope.  He roped my car to his taxi.  And off we went to the mechanic's place - no tow truck needed.

I spent some hours, then, on a wooden bench in this mechanic's 'shop' - little more than a rickety corrugated-roof pavilion over a patch of dirt, with a cluttered workbench and a few old cars sitting under a nearby tree.

It was oddly pleasant, though, probably more so than sitting in some enclosed and greasy-smelling anteroom in a car garage in the US.  The wind ruffled my hair.  Traffic breezed past.  The mechanic's friends dropped by to say hello.

I never did get to the Volta Region that weekend, and regrettably spent more time with the mechanic than I spent having fun.

But at least I can say I've had my car towed by a taxi.

1 comment:

Duncan Moredock said...

I like the assertiveness of these Ghana taxi drivers. Luckily for you, a taxi doubled up as a tow truck service. The experience may be overwhelming, but look at the bright side: you got your car fixed, met new people, and learned more about the place.