Because the traffic is so bad, I decided to get a motorbike. Not a big one or a fast one but just good enough to evade all the traffic in the morning. Sitting nonsensical in the trotro and sweating is not the best option to start your day. I heard that they sell bikes at Circle (Kwame Nkrumah Circle, one of the major traffic and public transportation hubs and the long distance station for anyone who wants to go to the West).
Because I was stuck in traffic and no car was moving for at least 10 minutes, I decided to go on a walk and find it myself. However, after seeing a couple of rundown bikes, I decided to go on a walk and somehow make it to Jamestown, one of the oldest parts of Accra.
I walked through Ussher Town and came across Accra’s old train station.
The gateway between two worlds is a narrow pass and highly frequented. Outside on the streets are gazillions of market women selling smoked fish of unknown quality and age. Little red sunshades are moving in the light summer breeze and dust and black rubber bags are flying through the air. Interacting in a ballet of filth and dirt applauded by thousands of pedestrians and security guards lying in the shade.
If it weren’t for modern accessories and cars, the whole place could be frozen. By-passed by history, rusting away in the tropical sun.
Early 20th century architecture, old German trains, junkies, poverty, gambling, the smell of urine and people staring. I thought I am home in Leipzig but no, this is Accra.
The small train station was run down and the beautiful small turret with an old watch, made in London of course, reminded me of scenarios long gone which I might have seen in movies or on old yellowed pictures.
In the shade of the canopy of the stations dozens of people were sleeping, sitting or selling their goods. Some waiting for the train who leaves twice a day.
Originally build in the beginning of the 20th century by the British to access the manganese, bauxite and gold mines as well as the cocoa rich areas of the western and central region, the rail road system is only a mere shadow of its former self. The former A-shaped road system between Takoradi, Kumasi and Accra, with an interlink on half of the way between the eastern and the western division, is only operable on two tracks. One is Takoradi – Kumasi for the mining trains, one is Accra – Kotoku, also for commercial trains.
There is only one connection that runs for transportation purposes, that is between Accra and Tema. Twice a day the fancy looking train covered in the colors of the Ghanaian flag rolls out and bringing workers from Tema to Accra in the morning and back in the Evening.
In 2010 the Ghanaian government signed a $6 billion deal with the Chinese state firm CNC to build a railway from Kumasi to Paga and from Tamale to Yendi, making all regions accessible by train, except the Upper West, which development is neglected anyway (but that’s a topic for another post that needs some travelling and field research).
If the cooperation is fruitful, nobody knows. If the Ghanaians learn from experiences from the past is also a question that awaits its answer. (when the stadium in Accra was renovated by a Chinese contractor, they brought in Chinese generators and when the first soccer game was about to start, of course with all the VIP guests etc, the electricity went down and nobody knew how to start the generator because everything was in Mandarin, so they had to bring a guy from the embassy of China to translate the instructions. The game started half an hour later)
Accra is a terminal station. At the railhead burns a large pile of trash. Old wagons are parked aside and used by homeless and jobless people to take a nap.
The opposite platform which was used to access the trains from a storage building is used by a guy to wet-iron jeans and dry them on the railway later. The space between rails and platform is used as a public toilet, creating a sort-of swamp of urine, trash and mud.
The smell is intense. Burning plastic, urine, dust and frying fat from a chopbar very close. Oh Ghana!
While I mount my tele to do a shot, someone is hissing at me from the side to draw my attention to him. Someone from inside one of the old trains invites me to join him. I climb the wagon and step into a world 30 years before now.
I soak in the atmosphere and have the feeling, that something is familiar here. I look around and finally find what I was looking for. The wagon was built at the VEB Wagonbau Bautzen. A state-owned factory for trains of the former GDR. A little research later tells me that they were imported to Ghana in 1987 shortly before the reunion of Germany.
I climb over three or four sleeping men, stretching their legs on the seats. After we finished our talk and I have to turn down his question if I have any job to offer, my very friendly host encourages me to take a picture of the scene. While being suspiciously inspected from people outside of the train, I hope that no one wakes up and feels disturbed by my presence.
What I learned during all my travels in the West African countries I have been to is, that the most grim-looking people who might not even give much about my presence, are the most fun.
I am being eyed on suspiciously by a group of men. Maybe ten of them, sitting on the platform in the shade where a nice wind is blowing.
Cards and damii are the favorite games.
My ‘hello how are you nod’ is responded with short glances basically saying ‘what do you want?’
I decided to try to join them for a quick chat to ease the slight tensions and they turn out to be a very loud and friendly group of shady gamblers trying to make the day pass by.
I am urged to try myself at damii, which is a very fast board game with simple tactics. But be aware of Ghanaian men for they are trying to cheat you wherever they can. I earn their recognition by playing a draw game with ‘fresh boy’ my opponent.
After that they try to lure me into games with stakes of ‘5 Cedi’ and ‘double or nothing’ and you name it. Thankfully I am not that easily attracted to gambling and can withstand the temptation to spend the rest of the afternoon with them.
I continue my Journey to Jamestown, trying to reach the light tower and its fishers village beneath.