Written by Ingryd London, Go Global participant (July 2015)
I walk to Norrip junction and stand on the corner waiting for a taxi to take me to work. Here in Tamale you have two options when it comes to taxis. You may get a “drop” taxi that will take you directly to your destination for a minimum of 5 cedis (around £1). Or your other option is to hop in a “shared” taxi that will take you to your desired junction where you would then get out and get in another taxi to your next junction. For example, if you wanted to get from Golders Green tube station to Hendon Central tube station in a shared taxi, you would take on taxi all the way down Golders Green Road and up Brent Street. You would then get off at the roundabout and jump in another shared taxi all the way down Queen’s Road. Typically, when taking a shared taxi, depending on the length of the journey, you would pay anything from 50 pesewas to 1.5 cedis.
When I first started my placement I would take 3 shared taxis to get to work (around 25 minutes in the taxis) and would pay around 3 cedis each way. After having argued with a taxi driver about a fare I decided I was going to get a bike. (In truth, I wanted to get a bike from day one, but I needed to get more confident with cycling around Tamale). I found a bike dealer near my house and handed over 180 cedis for a second hand bike with a basket. And so my new routine began.
I wake up at around 6.30am each day. I begin to fill up my bucket in the shower whilst I make my bed. This is a much longer process than the usual, throw-the-duvet-on situation. This is a real mission that involves much tact and careful strategy. There is mainly the sheet to re-tuck. But you can’t do that until you’ve removed your mosquito net and your pillows (and, if you have one, a sheet you sleep under). So, off comes the net. Followed by the pillows and sheet. Then the straightening and tucking on all sides. And now put everything back on.
I place the kettle on to boil and come back to check on my bucket. Afteraround 15 mins or so, the bucket is full and I can shower. Using a half cut bottle I scoop up some water and wash myself. This, believe it or not, is a great improvement from when I used to stand and wait for the bottle to fill up each time. A “quick” shower would take around 15 – 20 minutes. Just saying.
On my way out I greet the guard. Headphones go in and I’m off on my bike. I cycle across the nearby school, down Norrip street. Take a left onto Bolga and a right by Jisonayili. Greeting some of my regular spectators with a loud and proud “das-ba” (good morning), I enjoy the communal reply of “naa”. It has become a real show now. Every morning and most afternoons, the crowds come out to watch the crazy, (maybe a little too heavy for her bike) white lady cycle to work. Children on their way to school say good morning, whilst their younger siblings simply stop in their tracks and stare.
The sun is usually quite hot, but the breeze is to die for. I look forward to seeing every group of now-not-such-strangers waiting for me every day. I think my favourite so far are the group of women who gather around this little shop each morning chatting. And every day I shout over “good morning ladies”, and they burst into a fit of giggles and shout back “na guaram!” (how is your journey?) to which I reply with a happy “naa”! In general, there is a lot of waving and “naa[ing]” happening. So if you aren’t comfortable cycling with one hand, you better get practicing before you get to Tamale!
The School Morning
Lessons begin at 8am.
When I first arrived at the school I was told I was going to be a teacher assistant. Turns out I was going to be their form teacher.
When I first arrived at the school I was told I was going to teach maths, science and English. Turns out I am going to be teaching all subjects. (I feel the at this point I should inform you that that includes subjects such as religion and moral studies, citizenship and creative arts).
Each lesson is around one hour long. My students are between the ages of 9 -13. They are clever, well behaved and (on the most part) eager to learn. I feel flattered to be teaching a group of such bright kids.
There are two breaks in the day and lessons finish at 2pm. Three students are already waiting for me outside the gates to cycle back together. I never thought I would be so happy simply racing on our bikes to the bottom of the road! One of my students sits at the back of my bicycle and we cycle together with the three others and one of their siblings to the end of the road. Zuleiha jumps off my bike and walks to her house just off the road. The rest of us continue onto the main road and homewards. Around the halfway point I watch them cross the road to go off to their neighbourhoods and I continue uphill to make it back to Jisonayili.
Just like on my way to school, I have a few groups waiting for me to cycle past. This time, on the other side of the road. There is a group who sits under a shelter next to a petrol station, that every time I cycle past they all stand up and shout “whoosh”. I laugh and shout back “ante ray” (good afternoon).
One of the other placements happens to be en route home. GIGDEV is an institution for vocational and academic learning for girls denied education. I hop off my bike and step inside. I enjoy visiting the girls. When I arrive, they are usually sewing whilst chatting and listening to the radio. Due to my new found hobby of learning Dagbani (the local language), I am locally known as the “Dagbani paa” (Dagbani woman). My little vocab book tends to bring a smile to their faces and they seem to thoroughly enjoy humouring me for my accent. I chat to them briefly, walk over to buy a sachet of water (“quam”) from the store next door and before I set off, I manage to do my veg shopping.
Occasionally when I am cycling home after school, I see some of the other volunteers drive past in a taxi. And I race them home.
After exchanging few more greetings with the egg-selling lady and the bicycle boys, I make my final turn and head back home. I usually arrive at around 3.30pm each day (depending if I stop off at GIGDEV or not). And usually that’s the end of my day. Sometimes I head into town for a walk around the market and to say hello to a few people.
And that is how I know that my journey to work has become such a theatrical piece. I get stopped by one or two people saying hello and informing me that I “cycle very fast past [their] office”. We laugh and I sit with them for a casual game of Ludo.