Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Obruni Scooter Girl

The first time G (the Ghanaian ex), walked through our rickety compound house door with the red and white little mini-scooter I was at once excited and terrified.

At the time, being a struggling volunteer, my main source of transport in Ghana had been by tro tro. The world of tro tros is one only understood through experience. They wait in their lorry parks in a chaotic form of organization, each with their final destination , and wait to fill up before moving. This can be anywhere from minutes to hours. In 34 degree Celsius heat, as the rows get jammed fuller and fuller with all sorts of travelers and their wares, children, livestock… Needless to say, I was ecstatic to be presented with an independent form of transportation that would eliminate all the waiting and the cramped conditions, but it would mean taking on the roads of Accra directly, on the tiniest form of motorized transportation known to humankind.

The little scooter immediately became one of the family, and despite the fact that we already had five people with numerous additional compound children at any given time living in a 10 x 10ft room, the scooter slept inside with us. It fit right between the TV and the coffee table, and on the hot nights, we all lay in various configurations around it's little tires, on our straw floor mats.

At first G was the brave driver and all of us took turns on the back, feeling the exhilarating whizz of the air as the compound and the gawking, shuffling excited children were left behind in the swirling dust. It was fun! The first time we headed out into the main roads was another level of terrifying. We negotiated potholes that were bigger than the scooter, then there were goats and kids, that represented unpredictable moving targets on the sides of the roads where we carved our little path. We splashed through puddles of unidentified opaque liquids, and made it back home safely to the cheers of our little audience.

Then they all pressured me to take a spin alone. In all honesty, driving one of those things is beyond easy, and immediately I was hooked.

It wasn’t surprising then that a few years later I met many people from Tamale to new foreigners, who said I was ‘known’ as the Obruni scooter girl. That was after I had graduated to the larger, upscale model. My blue Suzuki with a custom made black ‘boot/trunk’ welded on the back. To think that I had become the thing of myths - a mysterious pale face woman, a strange foreigner, whizzing through the streets of Accra, my hair flowing in the deified as the one obruni girl who acted a few episodes of the Sunday musical drama on GTV (she had been a Peace Corps volunteer who had learned to speak Twi fluently)... but I digress.

It didn’t surprise me either though, that despite my limited notoriety on the scooter, it never became an expat trend, in fact in the 12 years I’ve lived in Ghana, I’ve never seen another white girl driving a scooter. In recent years I’ve seen two African women (who I doubt were Ghanaian, since driving scooters in Ghana is not regarded highly, but is quite common in all the surrounding Francophone countries). There are also the mad Ghanaian and Lebanese motorcyclists who use the Tema motorway to pull wheelies on their mammoth beast, with the front tire high in the air. These are of course men –as the motorcycle seems to be an ego extension, exhibiting macho prowess – the louder the better.

For me, the scooter represented ultimate freedom and adventure – it took me to so many places I never would have known or ventured. It was a catalyst to me breaking through my own fears, cultural and gender barriers, and it was always a topic of great interest to Ghanaians and foreigners alike.

I’m sure most thought I was nuts, and indeed I may have been, but I’ll never regret it.

I even took my boys on the scooter, two at a time once we had the bigger one – and this has provided countless stories that we remember with sheepish grins. It was careless, it was dangerous, it was improper – I’m sure had I done this in Canada I’d have been arrested for child neglect or abuse or some variation. But we loved it and I will forever cherish our little adventures on the scooter – just the three of us. I remember one day when I had Q on the front and we were singing at the top of our lungs, cruising down the Ring Road, en route to visit a friend, each of us with our helmets on (I think his was actually a bicycle helmet), and boom! Out of the blue were dive bombed by a bird that had just fallen from the sky. It ricocheted off my son’s helmet and into mine and bounced off, leaving us stunned and bewildered and then consumed with laughter. The things that happened on that scooter!

Even when I was unceremoniously mugged by some thugs in a passing car, the scooter cracking in two and ending up in a gutter with my passenger (a visiting Canadian friend) and I ending up scraping along the gravel….I did not give up the scooter.

When I was faced head on one day in an incredible split second game of chicken with a crazed tro tro driver, I had to succumb, jump off and watch as my scooter hit it’s side and slide off, engine running, into the roadside sellers, while I dropped and rolled off to safety in the other direction.

I still wasn’t deterred.

There came a time though when the scooter was just abandoned. In fact, it had been sent to our trusty mechanic and we just never went to pick it up. It represented the end of an era – there was a break up of the family, of the frivolousness we had all shared, and with it went our beloved scooter.

I just found these photos and had to share the days of old - from the Obruni scooter girl.
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Anonymous said...

How bout "ovaload" as we tried to sneak past the police station helmet and license less on the poor red moto loaded to capacity and then some with our purchases from the plastics shop. Or motoring down to "bad for ya" for twp-two. Oh the good times that were had on your moto! - Aunti T

The pale observer said...

Tess! How could I forget 'Ovaload!" or dodging the police beating sticks in Makola?!

I even forgot about Bad for ya.

Will have to write again!

Karen said...

Hello, Pale Observer!
Thanks for checking out my blogpost on Ghana. I'm so glad you stumbled across my site, as now I've been reading through your posts and have really enjoyed the perspective. I was especially interested in your take on the Accra to Kumasi road. I'd like to put a link on my site to your blog if you don't mind. Best, Karen

The pale observer said...

Hi Karen - great! The more links the better, right? :-)

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