I sit in the passenger seat of our SUV, peering out the windshield at my husband.
He’s bent over with his hands on a small plastic desk, sitting across from a police officer with a manual in front of him. I see mouths moving but hear nothing. From here, it looks more like they are having a staring contest. In front of us is a red barricade stopping traffic in both directions.
Police officers line the area on both sides, randomly allowing some cars to pass, and ordering others to pull over. We are in the latter category.
“Is dad going to be arrested?” I hear a small voice ask nervously, peering up from her iPad. “I don’t know honey.” I reply, unable to confidently reassure her, “I don’t think so. I certainly hope not.”
It was a holiday weekend, and we had decided to take a trip to Cape Coast/Elmina to get out of the city and explore other parts of Ghana.
The Cape Coast area is rich in history, having been a large contributor to the slave trade in West Africa. It is, on a lighter note, also known for its fishing villages and beautiful beaches. Cape Coast/Elmina is about 150 kilometers away (just under 100 miles), but on the best day, the trip from Accra takes about three and a half hours. If there is an accident or any other unforeseen circumstance, that three hours can easily turn into five.
We rose early that morning and loaded the car with beach toys, sunscreen, snacks, water, you name it. We had enough stuff for a week-long vacation, let alone just 3 days. The girls piled into the car with their pajamas on, blankets and toys in tow, and ate their breakfast en route. We were ready for our road trip!
Driving in Accra is unlike anything I have ever experienced in the United States, and getting out of the congested city is certainly not any better.
Cape Coast is just West of Accra, a straight shot on the aptly named Accra-Cape Coast road. Being the only major road with access to the Western part of the country, and highly traveled, I expected a large, well-maintained motorway.
When we finally find ourselves outside of the Accra city limits, I am shocked to see the road narrow to two-lanes, with little-to-no shoulder. Having grown up in the Midwest, it gives me flashbacks of the cornfield-lined country roads we’d travel onto visit friends. Just trade corn for tropical foliage and termite mounds and you’ll get the picture.
The drive itself is a cultural experience. Beyond the suburbs of Accra, there is less city hustle and bustle and more small towns and villages. The villages markets are set along the roadside, so you drive right through the middle of them on your route.
Swarms of people surround your car and tro tros expertly weave in and out, picking up passengers.
Traffic moves at a snail’s pace, if at all. From your seat, you see a hodgepodge of things: chickens, tires, bread, caskets, couches, shoes, and party supplies for sale. You name it, and you can find it along the way.
The drive between these small villages promises no less excitement. Buses, taxis, and tro tros pass one another as if they are playing a game of chicken from a racing scene in old movies. I gasp, clasp the dashboard, and close my eyes several times along the drive, certain of a collision.
Along the roadside, vendors have set up shop selling fruits and vegetables. This region is famous for its pineapple – the most tender and sweet pineapple I have ever tasted. Unusually pale, nearly white in color, it looks almost unappetizing. Then, you take a bite and it is like candy.
Another roadside attraction that adds to the excitement of the drive: men seem to pop out of the bush holding up the day’s catch of “bush meat” like a trophy for sale. I have not been brave enough to try it yet, but I am told by the locals that it is a delicacy. Maybe one day…
After passing through markets, fruit and vegetable stands, and bush meat vendors, we come to the last selling point where women sell Fante kenkey, popular to this region. Kenkey is a fermented maize that is kneaded into a dough and cooked in a plantain leaf. It can be eaten with fish stew or ground with milk and sugar into a sweet drink.
Along both sides of the road, there are probably twenty women with wooden stands, all selling kenkey, their stand labeled with their names: Effia, Mary, Abiba, Efua.. Passengers stop and these women run into traffic and swarm the car of the interested buyer, like paparazzi swarming the hottest pop star of the moment.
Having tried kenkey a couple times, we are not huge fans. The sour taste is an acquired one that we have just not learned to appreciate yet.
The kenkey ladies, though, were a sign that we were almost there.
We see our final hurdle ahead, the police barrier. Traffic slows and the car in front of us begins to pass through; we inch up close in hopes of also sneaking through, as we lock eyes with the police officer motioning for us to pull over. With a deep sigh, we pull over.
There are a few things you must have and be aware of when getting pulled over: your license, your vehicle registration, the location of your fire extinguisher, and triangles for an emergency.
We have all of those things. I look on as my husband goes through all 4 steps of the procedure. Check, check, check, and check. “Great, we’re done,” I think to myself as I look at my phone, calculating how much time we’ll have at the to enjoy the beautiful blue water on the beach before lunch.
But my husband grabs the handle of the car door and doesn’t open the door. The policeman is motioning for my him to go over to the tent to speak with another officer. What is happening? What did we possibly do wrong?My heart sinks and my palms begin to sweat as I watch my husband take off his hat, place his hands on the desk, and bend down to speak to the policeman. The staring contest begins. And we anxiously wait.