For those of you who do not know me well, I recently rediscovered the joy of peddling a bike. This summer, I began riding back and forth to work, and it rather quickly grew on me. Almost every day this fall, I rode back and forth to work as it took me at most 15-18 minutes while the bus would take at least twice that long, if it was running on time. It appeals to me as one has control over one’s destination unlike buses.
Thus, I put purchasing a bike on my “to do list.” Five weeks in, I finally got around to purchasing one Friday. Bikes are not overwhelmingly popular in Ghana but people do ride them and there are half a dozen parked on the ground floor of ISH. Why get a bike? I enjoy riding around as it is the most efficient self-propelled transportation available. I can save time navigating campus as the twenty minute walk to the fabled Jones Quarterly Building, the New End Block and the End Block are now a less than 10 minute ride. It will also encourage me to explore off campus a bit more.
Finding a place to buy a bike was an event all in itself as I did not know exactly where to go. Thus, I thought that I would try Makola market, one of the largest in Ghana, as a decent starting point. I hopped onto a tro-tro (It only took me three tries, a personal record!) to Circle, the hub of tro-tros and then walked to downtown Accra. I later figured out that if I had hopped onto a tro-tro going to Accra, I would have been spared the walk but it was good to see the city.
Upon reaching the market, I wandered around in search of bikes. I found none but luckily, Ghana is not only an English speaking country but a friendly one at that. I asked a nice lady, she passed the question on to her neighboring stall owners, and I got an answer. Across the street from a nearby police station, there are several bicycle shops. I asked several more people onto the way as I ended up going past it but finally a policeman gave me perfect directions. And it was not just any police station but the national police headquarters which spanned an entire block.
I finally found the place which was more or less a wide alley with half a dozen bike shops. When I say bike shops, I mean shipping containers containing little workshops, spare parts and old bikes that will be stripped for parts. I saw a blue Mongoose but was quickly distracted by a silver German road bike with skinny tires. I had wanted one at home as my Giant mountain bike was not exactly suited for the UAlbany-99 Pine Street commute and I harbored a now vain hope that I could find a perfect one cheaply here. I loved going fast and a road bike would let me go even faster. In hindsight, the condition of the bikes for sale should have clued me in as none were new nor were there many for sale. I almost bought the silver racing bike but after an extended test run, I concluded that it was too small as my feet kept scraping the ground and that it would not be suited for Ghana’s status as a developing nation.
Therefore, I settled on the blue Mongoose that originally caught my eye as it was a cross between a skinny tired road bike and a mountain bike. It was 230 cedis ($160) but I will sell it back before I leave. I hopped on and began to ride back, checking the map frequently as I had never had to navigate Accra on a bike. I had to race back for 3:30p Twi class. Unfortunately, I had not eaten much that day and the heat was a killer. After passing the Accra Mall, I hopped a curb in order to leave the craziness of the main road. Much to my dismay, this resulted in a flat tire which will be the source of my troubles for the next few days.
What to do? Well, Twi class took importance so I flagged a cab. He put my bike into the back and off we went to ISH. I dumped the bike with the others and raced up to my room to get my Twi stuff. My roommate gave me his homework to hand in too so I had to retrieve that. In the end, I walked into an empty classroom. Others had thought it was for 2p. I had heard 3:30p so I was relieved that I not missed anything.
As the flat tire would not fix itself, I took out the tube and went to Madina market where there was a full-fledged bike shop or at least it was by Ghanaian standards. I was going to bring the whole wheel but for convenience’s sake, I brought only the deflated tube. For a mere 10 cedis, I got two new tubes and a bike lock.
Returning back to ISH, I immediately got to work replacing the tube. Quickly, I discovered that the value was not long enough. Being on occasion handy with my hands, I made a slightly larger hole using my multi-tool (Thanks Gram and Grandpa!) instead of racing back to get another tire. The value was able to fit and be closed. I went over to the Night Market to pump up the tire as I declined to bring my own mini-pump. The stall owner, a University policeman, and I all tried to get the tire to fit over the tube as every time we pumped it up, the tire would stick out in one part and be more liable to flatten out. The policeman concluded that tube was too big for the tire. I felt a bit of annoyance arising as I had given the bike shop my old tube so there should be no issue with size as it is written right on the tube.
What to do now? Ride back to Madina, hoping that my tire would not fail and that the shop would still be open. The plan was brought to sudden stop with, surprise, a flat tire. Luckily, a kindly fellow selling hub caps suggested that I take my bike to a spot behind the police station where it could be fixed. After some searching, I found the gentleman. In no time at all, my existing tire was patched as the spare I had been sold was too small. Of course, I was sold two tubes, one bigger and one smaller, not one that actually fit! Tomorrow, I will attempt to get to Madina once more and get it fixed by the shop. While the gentleman who patched my tire said that the Madina shop would be open, I am sure that my luck will disappear as soon as I get to town then too as it is Sunday.
All of this is fueling by my desire to be independently mobile, allowing me to explore the countryside, the nearby hills, neighborhoods and even the beach. While the upfront costs are exorbitant, at least in terms of annoyance and dare I say anger, hopefully those benefits will be well worth it. After the tire was patched, I rode through the Botanical Gardens and stumbled across two watering holes, one for a beautiful flock of at least 150 white birds on an island in the middle of a pond, and another for people to eat, drink, dance, and be merry. This was only my first ride around campus!