The next morning I awoke to the sound of rain drops on the tin roof. I mean, what I thought were rain drops on the tin roof. It was really a herd of goats and sheep trotting past our window. Good morning, Africa.
We quickly packed up our bags and headed down to the waterfront, where the mammoth ferry was waiting to take us across the lake to Yendi. There we would catch a bus to our next destination. To the left of the ship was a small, wooden fishing boat, quickly filling up with passengers. So we took it. But of course, no form of transportation could ever be convenient, quick or efficient.
As we loaded in and plopped down on the creaky wooden planks, I noticed two men filling holes in the bottom of the boat with cotton. That’s right. Thin slivers of the floor were starting to part, so to counteract this, they hammered cotton in the cracks with a screwdriver. Meanwhile, another man was in charge of scooping out the water that was seeping in through the various holes.
We waited for nearly an hour when the boat finally pushed off of Yeji soil. Thankfully it was an overcast morning and relatively cool- probably not even 90 degrees yet. I sat next to a woman and her child. The bottoms of her feet were stained a dark purple, her eyes lined in thick black ink. Her child also had some eye liner on, a common Muslim practice that is said to keep evil spirits away. As we drifted across the lake I thought about how that was was her reality. For me, the journey was an adventure, one that I would come to appreciate being over, but for her… that is life. Holey fishing boats. The blazing climate. “Street food.” All the traditional spiritual beliefs that many northern towns harvest. She doesn’t blog or snap photos for her friends and family back home. That is her home. It’s incredible how diverse this world is.
Once we landed in Yendi, we immediately saw the bright orange, boxy Mass Metro bus. And the extensive line stemming from the door to buy tickets. I bought a few bananas and some ground nuts, and we waited. After about 45 minutes, people starting shooing us away from the line. “The bus is full,” they said.
I walked over to the female conductor, dressed in a yellow cotton collar shirt and black pants with an ID card around her neck, to ask her if there was still a chance we could get on.
“Do you mind standing?” she asked me.
“No, we’ll stand,” I replied.
“Okay, you’ll get on,” she said.
“Alright, do you promise?” I persisted.
“Promise. Cross my heart,” she replied with a sincere smile.
After another two hours went by, the frustration began to build. Huge baskets and carts filled with fruits vegetables and other local products lined the open and empty cargo trunks of the bus. What were they waiting for? Why was everyone just standing around? I decided to ask.
“So… let’s go then!” I said, trying to motivate the crowd. “Let’s get these puppies loaded. Anyone need help? What goes in first?”
They all just laughed at me. That’s one thing I’ve come to brush off so easily. Where ever we go we seem to entertain locals with our ignorance and American attitudes. Like wanting the bus to actually leave within this lifetime.
“What are we waiting for?” I asked the conductor.
“After we load we will be off,” she replied.
I just about gave up, when I decided to speak Twi.
“Mepakyew,” I said to her. “Yeku Tamale. Mepakyew,” (Please, we go to Tamale. Please.)
“I like this,” I said to her, pointing to the black plastic clip holding her hair back. “It’s sankofa. The bird symbol, right? Efefe.” Sankofa is an Adrinkra symbol meaning back to your roots, or that you can undo what is wrong and make it right. Efefe means “it is beautiful.”
She sighed and giggled again before she spoke these glorious words: “I am going to help you out.” As she got out her ticket stubs. She wrote down two seat numbers and collected my money. I strutted back to Ruth, slumped and hopeless sitting on her bag, like a proud momma.
“And here is youuurrrr seat number, miss,” I said. “That’s right. This is what you manage to learn to do after all the years of acquiring wisdom throughout your travels. You learn how to be in the right places at the right times. Mmmhmmm.” I will mock Skipper for the rest of my lifetime.
We arrived in Tamale several hours later. Searching the bus station for anything on wheels going to Mole National Park, we entered the office to ask for tickets.
“The bus is full,” one conductor said. “Come tomorrow morning at four for the next one.”
“Can we buy tickets for that one now?” Ruth asked.
“No, only tomorrow morning.”
So we left the station to brace the northern region’s most populated city. I try to keep a positive outlook on most situations, but that place sucked, for lack of a better term. It was even dirtier and hotter than Accra, although lacking the intense humidity of the south, which was nice.
At Alhassan Hotel we booked a room and dropped our bags off. We headed to a local restaurant for dinner. After scanning the menu, we asked about the pizza.
“No pizza,” the waiter replied.
“Okay, I’d like the red-red and chicken please,” I told him.
“Okay, well what do you have?” I asked, frustrated.
“We have eeevvverryything! Just no pizza or red-red,” he assured us.
“Alright then I’ll take the beans and rice,” I said.
“One second,” he said as he stepped outside. He walked back in to our table.
“OKAY! Well, then, yup. We’re going to go to a different restaurant. Preferably a place that actually has food,” Ruth said as we got up and left.
We found a restaurant and afterwards basked in an internet café before returning to our room. Did I say room? I actually meant the ginormous oven we were staying in with two twin beds. I’m not kidding when I say this. The sheets were hot. Hot like, you just took them out of the dryer, hot. Except when you do that, it’s comforting and the heat goes away in a couple of minutes. The sheets were so hot that my body actually cooled them down. The room temperature easily hit triple digits.
Luckily we were getting up at three, so we only had to endure it for a few hours. And to top it all off, the courtyard was right outside of our window, where a crowd of obnoxious Ghanaian men had gathered to watch soccer.
Lying there in that bed was one of those moments- a moment that makes or breaks you. The kind of moment that truly tests your faith and strength. It was a physical and mental battle, but I managed to push through to the next morning, when Ruth’s alarm went off at three, another day just waiting to be lived.