The motormouths

Most taxis in Ghana carry some inscription on the back windows. Some are funny, others don’t seem to mean anything—not until the owners explain.

Joseph Manu drove someone else’s car for 20 years.
Then his wife decided to use money she inherited after her father’s death to buy Manu his own taxi. Since then, Manu’s taxi has had the inscription “Good Wife”.

“Not many women would do that,” Manu told me, “but my late wife made sure I got my own car and this has helped me to educate our three children. It also kept me on the narrow path because, unlike most of the taxi drivers, I do not keep a girlfriend even after my dear wife died.”

In search of windscreen wisdom beyond the city limits I rode in a taxi driven by Kwadwo Boakye from Adum to Old Tafo in Kumasi, the second-largest city in the country. The owner of his taxi was once betrayed by some friends, though the exact nature of the betrayal remains a mystery to the driver. The owner, Boakye said, could not hide his disgust and had “Some Friends” inscribed on his car.

Back in Accra, the capital, hundreds of taxis have inscriptions—including some that, even once the creator has explained the meaning, remain strangely unclear. One that recently caught my eye was “Bedza Agbabo”, which means “Unless You Are Told” in the local Ga language.

Said Lamptey Lawson, the driver: “That is my life story. Today, those who do not know how I started would think I just got up and owned my own car. I have gone through hell and back and when I bought my car I decided to remind myself of all that I have gone through by putting that on my car.”

Another was “Fama Nyame”—meaning “Give It to God” in the local Twi language. Driver Paul Dogbe explained: “You cannot pay people back all the time in this world. If you did, you would kill every day because people do wrong by you all the time. So, instead, you have to give everything to God and allow him to judge everything without favour,” Dogbe said, adding that his father is a pastor.

“Pure Joy” is driven by Ahmed Suleimana in Accra. When his brother travelled to Libya he wrote to Suleimana to tell him he had bought a car for him to use as a taxi. “I was excited and for days I walked around with a huge smile on my face. For many years I had driven other people’s cars and the owners often treated me badly.

“Some of them just got up one morning and told me, without warning, that they had found a new driver. I was so happy when I got the news that my brother had bought me one, my joy made me write that on my car.”

Another Accra taxi has “Without Nine There Can Be No Ten” inscribed on it. When asked to explain, Bob Aryee said: “That is the logic of life. Without counting one, you cannot get to two. Everything has a beginning and getting this car is my first step to wherever I can get to in life.”

Outside Accra in the eastern regional capital of Koforidua is a taxi with the inscription “Ask Your Mother”. I asked the driver, Fred Atta, what it meant. He said: “It means many things. There are those people who always complain about their situation in life. Well, I think that mothers know everything and so you need to go back and find out from her what happened on the day you were born, whether it rained or the sun shone; then you can use that to judge your life. If it rained then you know you entered this world on a gloomy day so you should expect a gloomy life and if it was sunny, your life would be bright.

“And there are other things ... some people behave like their mothers did not tell them who their right fathers are. You can see from their daily anger over everything. Such angry people need to go back to find their fathers so that they can relax.”

Francis Kokutse is the Accra correspondent for the Nation Media Group of Kenya. He freelances for Associated Press, Dow Jones Newswires and Inter Press Service

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