Driving in Ghana is an interesting experience. Or, perhaps I should say riding in Ghana, as I never actually sat behind the wheel.
The first thing that struck me is that they drive on the right side of the road. Ghana used to be a British colony, but they drive on the right side of the road. I never asked why that was, but I wish I had, because I’d still like to know.
The next thing I noticed was that either every car in Ghana needs a tune-up, or the gas is lower grade than anything I’ve ever seen. I’m guessing both are true, plus the lack of any air quality standards. Even fairly new, expensive vehicles blew smoke and chugged along like they were on their last legs. (Shell, by the way, seems to be the most common provider of gas; I did see one or two 76 stations.) Another problem with the vehicles – as with nearly everything else, as far as I could tell – is that “repair” is a concept that really hasn’t caught on. If it runs – at all – it doesn’t need fixing.
I quickly realized that the most important feature of any car is its horn (occasionally accompanied by yelling out the window). It seems that the horn has something to do with establishing right-of-way. It doesn’t really matter what else is going on, if you honk, you establish the right to go wherever you want. You can enter a major roadway, change lanes and make turns across lanes as long as you honk.
The Ghana honk is different than the American honk. Here, when people resort to the horn, they lay on it – the longer the honk, the madder you are at someone. In Ghana, the honk has a cadence similar to the Roadrunner’s “beep-beep.” Sometimes it takes on other, more common tones, but usually the Roadrunner beep-beep does the trick.
It’s also interesting that pedestrians don’t have any right-of-way whatsoever. It seems that if you get hit, it’s your own fault, as long as the car honked first. It didn’t matter who they were, children, women with baskets of fruit on their head, or the elderly – cars stop for no one. This is not just the taxi drivers, either, this includes the most gentle and well-mannered of pastors – a couple of quick honks, people would scatter like roaches in the light, and they would drive right on through at break-neck speeds.
On rare occasions tempers would flare, and a bit of yelling would ensue. However, this also seemed to be part of the game. And, to our amazement, we only saw one or two small fender-benders, indicating that these were actually very good drivers, with quick reflexes and good brakes.
We witnessed one fairly telling incident, where one driver had the nerve to bump another; within seconds the drivers were out of their cars, gesturing and arguing loudly. Just as quickly, a couple of other drivers were also out of their vehicles and we overheard one person saying something to the effect of, “calm down, this is no way to act.” In less than a minute, everyone was back in their vehicles and on their way – with no exchange of ID or insurance information.
Next: Road Conditions – or, “Where are we going?”