(Written July 2012, while the story in question happened in October 2011)
Twice in the past few days I have been reminded of one of my favorite stories from Ghana, The Bekwai Baby. The first time I was in the car with my mom, and she said “Remember that story you told us about the baby in Ghana?” and I said “Yes,” because there is only one great story about a baby in Ghana so I needed no other clarification. The second time was when I had a dream that I had a baby of my own, which was a hamster. I had to care for said baby and figure out how to take it on an airline trip because even though it was my baby, it was still a small animal, and I don’t know if you are allowed to travel with small animals, regardless of whether or not they are your children. Anyway, I was reminded of the Bekwai Baby again after this dream because my dream and this story both involve a baby. If you can’t tell yet, I prefer to not encounter babies on a regular basis so I don’t have many stories about them.
Over time I’ve found that some of my stories from Ghana endure while others fade into obscurity, and as one of the enduring stories I figured that this one deserves to be retold in a place where I can access it at will.
When I was living in Ghana, we spent two weeks living in a village that was a two or three hour drive from the nearest large city, Kumasi. I cannot tell you how long this is in distance because I usually am able to measure distance based on time it takes to get someplace, but time it takes to get places in Ghana is extended by the, we’ll say ‘odd’ roads and the ‘questionable’ means of transport. The villages we were staying in were then about an hour from the nearest marketplace which was in a smaller city, Bekwai.
Bekwai is small but the market is the closest for a lot of surrounding villages in a wide radius so it’s relatively busy. It’s certainly no Madina Market in Accra, where I could probably have gotten separated from my friends and tripped and died and not been found for days, but it is definitely a place where you want to avoid getting lost and need to have a good sense of direction and purpose to not get distracted. Keep this in mind for when I tell you of the market customer we encountered later in the day.
So we’re at Bekwai. It rains. We hide under the awning of a stand selling vaguely Tupperware-ish containers. We help them throw tarps over the Tupperware that is not under the awning. We try to locate cheese. We are unsuccessful. I buy a small plastic bag of an unidentified spice. Someone purchases a flashlight for the family whose home they are residing in. Most people purchase soaps and the like. I purchase clothespins in an effort to be different. I pick up some decks of cards to entertain myself when we have five free hours in the village and I have already taken my cursory three hour walk of the day. We meet back up by the bank and head over to where the tro-tros are congregated to make our way back to our villages. Fan-ice, my ice cream in a bag friend, is purchased by all and we begin to head back to the village, slurping our ice cream while chatting about who out of the twenty-one of us would win a physical fighting contest.
We are not the only people in the tro-tro. There are about ten of us, the driver, one of our chaperones in the front seat, and then a few Ghanaians going about their daily business. One of these Ghanaians is a woman sitting next to the door of the tro-tro, with a child on her lap. Presumably her child, so none of us take much notice.
The tro-tro stops at a cluster of homes. The mate opens the door, and helps the baby down off the woman’s lap and onto the ground. A few of us halt our contributions to the conversation and eye these actions suspiciously. The baby has a bag in its hand. The woman does not exit the tro-tro. The baby walks off into the cluster of homes, the mate closes the tro-tro door, and we continue on our merry way, woman (now presumably not mother) still on tro-tro.
We don’t say anything at first. We look around at each other. None of us is exactly sure what to make of the situation. There are a few hushed ‘did you see that’s’ and ‘what just happened,’ but we table the topic for later since we are not alone in the tro-tro and don’t want to loudly question the baby in earshot of the woman, presumably not mother. We go back to saying who would win in a fight, who would be out first, and who would hold their own for a while and then get slung off in the middle before the real competition starts. But the baby is not far from our minds, and we are all beginning to play out scenarios for how this incident took place in our heads as we roll back into Ampento.
When we’re back in our community room in the village, the conversation immediately turns to the baby. First statements are generally similar to these:
“IT WAS A BABY.”
“IT WAS A BABY, ALONE, ON A TRO-TRO.”
“THAT BABY WAS AT BEKWAI. AND THEN TOOK A TRO-TRO. HOME. ALONE.”
We talked about this for hours. We talked about this every single day. We talked about it at our breakfasts of toast and eggs, we talked about it at our repeated lunches of yams and cabbage stew, we talked about it while sitting in the community room with no activities, we talked about it while children yelled for us, we talked about it at the bar, we talked about it when walking to the other villages.
This baby was on the tro-tro by itself. Not a child, not even really a toddler, a BABY. We spent hours and days trying to piece this back together and figure out how a baby had survived alone at Bekwai, picked out the right tro-tro to go home, gotten on the tro-tro (a feat for even a short adult,) paid the mate the fare, and gotten off at the right stop and gone home. Did this mean the baby got on the tro-tro to Bekwai alone too? How did it know where it was going? How did it know what part of the market to go to or what items to pick? Where did it keep the money? What were its parents doing while it was out running these errands?
What I’m sure you’re doing right now is thinking of all the ways this could have made sense. Trust me, we did that too. We thought of every scenario that would make this un-weird, and after every scenario we realized why each one was not the case. For instance, I proposed: “Maybe the lady whose lap the baby was sitting on was friends with the parents and she took it to the market.” Nope, someone else on the tro-tro had been witness to when we got on the tro-tro and took up too much space so the lady offered to have this strange baby sit on her lap to make more space. “Well, maybe the baby just took a different tro-tro from its family” Nope, that didn’t work either. Nobody was outside waiting for the baby and if that had been the case, why wouldn’t the baby just have sat on its parents lap in their tro-tro? We literally went through every scenario we could think of that would make this baby being alone on the tro-tro make sense, but someone always came up with something to dispute it.
We finally asked Auntie Grace, one of our chaperones, if she knew anything about how the baby was on the tro-tro alone, or why, or really anything that might shed some light on the situation. Her response was a nonplussed “Oh, they just sent the baby out to get some things.”
IT WAS A BABY. Upon further pressing she told us that it seemed that the tro-tro mate had been told to look for the baby. Oh, that makes it not weird. OH WAIT, the baby still got on the tro-tro, got off at Bekwai, a super busy marketplace, went off and found the things it ‘was sent out to get,’ didn’t die in the crowd, didn’t get lost or trampled or kidnapped, picked out these specific items, paid for them, found its way back to the tro-tro stand, met back up with the mate, and made it home. And nobody thought this was weird but us.
We talked about the Bekwai baby for weeks. All we had to say was ‘the BABY,’ and we were off and running again. We discussed it to no end, because it never stopped being fascinating. The baby…went to..Bekwai. IT WAS A BABY. To this day if I text any of my Ghana friends a phrase as simple as ‘Dude…the baby…Bekwai,’ it is sure to spark a spirited discussion.
I could make this story about how capable children in Ghana are at an early age. I probably didn’t go to a busy place alone to pick things up until I was like, sixteen. I could make it about how kind and non-threatening the people of Ghana are, to not cause danger to a baby shopping and traveling alone. But really, this story isn’t about any of those things. It’s just a really funny, moreover crazy story of one of the many odd things I witnessed while in Ghana. I guess the point is that somewhere out there, there is a baby who will one day soon be a toddler and will soon after be a child and eventually a teenager and then someday adult, who has no idea that across the globe twenty Americans are spreading his or her story around the country. “Dude, guys, there was this baby, and it went alone…to Bekwai.”