There are some names and words that are unique to Ghana. My writer friend Kofi Akpabli has a number of them listed in his book ‘Tickling The Ghanaian’. He calls it Ghanakasacartograph. In there he has terms like ‘Tokyo Joe’, ‘Opana’, ‘Shogologobangoshay’ and ‘Ampukyekye’. What is fascinating about some of these ‘terms’ is that we usually can’t remember the origin of its coinage or the story behind it.
And there are some brand names too that have meaning unique only to Ghana. Like Space bus. Google that or ask any non-Ghanaian or even a Ghanaian who is not familiar with Accra or specifically the Circle-Kaneshie-Odorkor-Mallam route and you get the response of a vehicle that is out of this world. Literally. But on this route, it is the name of a famous mode of transport that has been with us for years.
The ‘Space bus’ is a bus which is used as a trotro on this route. I have a strong feeling that it was built by the Willowbrook company which had an assembling plant at Dzorwulu, close to where the World Miracle Church has its headquarters now. I grew up in Kotobabi and used to pass in front of that factory to fetch water. Amazingly, this same Circle-Mallam route (extending to Accra) was known the ‘King of Kings’ buses, featuring the double-decker ‘Auntie Dede’ buses. Ah, how it is that our Sikaman past was so glorious!
There aren’t new Space buses being made anymore, so most of those in service are as old as this writer. Their steering is so loose that it is not unusual to see the driver swing the wheel and let it go this is hits the other end in its circular motion. Adwoa Gyamera captured it well when she indicated that ‘the steering wheel of the space bus can be turned 360 degrees and yet the bus itself would move 5 degrees!’ The sitting arrangements are such that there are two columns of seats arranged in a transverse format in rows along the bus, with an aisle running in between the column, up to the ‘last seat’ which occupied the full width of the bus. The aisle serves two purposes: for easy movement and also as addition standing space for passengers when the seats are fully occupied.
A third benefit is that at the beginning of this aisle, just behind the massive gearbox which was also exuded a steady stream of heat, was ample space which was useful for bus preachers and mobile ‘doctors’ aka herbalists.
The Kaneshie-Circle route became a favourite of mine when I started losing my heart to the daughter of my father-in-law. One day on the journey from Attico Junction to Circle, this herbalist got onto the bus and started extoling the virtues of his ointment – it could clear blocked noses, relieve backache, headache, eliminate sneezing, ease the discomfort of piles and practically anything apart from HIV-AIDS. To show how confident he was of his claims, he passed along one or two tubs of the yellow cream dotted with spots (some herbs, he must have said) for the passengers to smear on our foreheads and into our noses to see how fast acting the ointment was.
Within minutes, eyes were oozing with water, noses were running, foreheads were sweaty and many passengers were nodding in appreciation of the ‘hotness’ of the stuff. There was a massive sale!
It has been said many times that what happens in a trotro is usually a microcosm of the larger society. And I find that nowhere is the Ghanaian gullibility exhibited as well as in a trotro. None of those passengers who tried that ointment paused to wonder what exactly it was the herbalist had used for his concoction. I have seen people on public transport chew barks and drink concoctions that one herbalist or the other shares freely. We are that openly trusting.
And this translates into our daily lives. And so it is not only the herbalist who knows it and uses it to advantage.
Recently, there was the matter of the Obengfo Hospital, which was in the news for having conducted plastic surgeries which left some of the patients disfigured for life or forfeiting their lives. I can wager that a greater percentage of those patients got to know about it and tried it after hearing a ‘live presenter mention’ (LPM) advert.
A listener once called into a program ran by one of the popular broadcasters on an Accra-based radio station to complain:
Caller: Oh [name of presenter, withheld], m’ade wo ho yaw paa (I am disappointed in you).
Presenter: Oh why?
Caller: I tried that blood tonic you advertised the other day and it didn’t work for me. Why did you tell us it would work?
Presenter: Oh, I was only doing my work to advertise it. I was paid for it.
We are that trusting. Gullible, I should say. Inasmuch as the regulators such as the Food and Drugs Authority and bodies such as the Ghana Medical Association should help protect the public, personal responsibility is very key and we should teach ourselves this attribute.
The politician knows this weakness of the Ghana(wo)man too. That is why spin doctors still find usefulness in the nation of our birth. Next time a politician gives you a political ointment to use on your mind, pause and think about its ingredients.
This gullibility finds expression in how quickly an innocent person can be beaten to death by a mob incited by a shout of ‘thief, thief!’. A few years ago when we had the phenomenon of ‘vanishing’ genitals, a hall mate of mine was killed in the Western region during his national service, just because a young boy he had stopped to ask directions from and whose hand he shook in thanks had shouted that his genitals had vanished and my pal’s car broke down a few meters into his outbound journey, allowing his pursuers to catch up with him and beat him to death. In more than one case, when the initial accusers were confronted, they confessed that the genitals didn’t actually vanish but diminished in size! Many an innocent person was killed in such callousness instigated by a foolish propensity to believe without questioning.
Unfortunately, the church is not spared this negative tendency. Tune into various radio stations around the country and you will be amazed what is spewed out in the name of Christ and even more shocking is that there are numerous people who heed such spurious calls.
In our bid to move from third world to first world, or is it from lower middle income to first world, we have to begin to work on our ability to question and challenge. To be skeptical and to be analytical.
Gullibility will take us only to Golgotha or even a worse place.
Nana A Damoah
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