On April 3, 2010 | 0 Comments

I got in touch with some old family friends, Grace and Linus, whom we knew in Ghana years ago when we lived here, and with whom we’ve (mostly my mother) kept in touch with over the years. They live in Somanya, a mid-sized town 30 miles north east of Accra. I’d originally planned to set out at 9 AM but pushed it back to 11 AM. As you read on, you’ll see why that’s significant in one of those “fate” kind of ways.

The Easter weekend in Ghana is probably second only to Christmas as the busiest travel time. This holiday is a very big deal in a very religious country, and many leave Accra for their home towns on Easter Friday and return Monday. The shabby roadworthiness of the Ghana’s privately owned transportation minivans called “tro tros” (from colonial days: “tro” a corruption of “three” pence) has been commented on ad nauseum here in the press. Secondly, tro tro speeding on Ghana’s open roads is a cancer that seemingly cannot be cut out. Even if caught speeding by a police officer, a “dash” of about GHC 3.00 will have you on your merry way.

About two-thirds the way to Somanya,Bernard and I came up on the kind of nightmare crash scene people talk about. I told him to pull over. I ran back to see what had happened. Minutes before our arrival, a Hyundai tro-tro had blown a tire, careened off the road, hit a tree and flipped over.

Crash 1

A crowd of people quickly gathered, everyone pulling over to see what had happened. There was massive confusion about what to do. “Who do you call?” I asked, with even less of a clue than they. The emergency number is 191, which Bernard had already tried to call. Fire is 192. Neither answered. Several people and I tried. Later Bernard told me he was told by Fire to call someone else. There was no reply there, so he called back to Fire again and was given yet another number, which didn’t work either. For slick westerners reading this and wondering why you can’t just call Information and get the number to the local hospital and/or ambulance service, welcome to the developing world. Recall we are no longer in the big city of Accra. We are between towns. It doesn’t work that easily.

It appears that the people in the last row of seats in the tro-tro, two of whom were lying on the roadside groaning in pain but conscious, had gotten out without too much injury, at least visibly. One victim, a woman in black, was calling out loudly in pain, but she did later sit up. She could however have had an occult injury somewhere. I tried to do a quick triage. One of the victims was lying on his back. He looked at me and whispered, “help me.” It was heartbreaking. I felt helpless, and I couldn’t kneel at his side and tell him that help was on the way, because it wasn’t.

A woman who had pulled over and come to help appeared to have some medical training. Neither of us could feel a pulse on one of the injured, and he wasn’t breathing. He had a massive head wound that someone bandaged up. I did a jaw thrust to open his airway and began CPR. The woman was monitoring his pulse. Another kept telling the victim, “Don’t give up, don’t give up.” Amazingly, after about 4 cycles of CPR the man began to stir and his eyes moved. But here was the problem: at that moment, there was nothing to take him or any of the others to the hospital. We really needed a pickup truck, but among all the vehicles present, there wasn’t a single pickup truck. Some of the other victims included a young man with a broken femur who was alive but in shock, and the driver and his assistant (known as the “mate”) both of them dead on the scene. They looked barely in their early twenties. I found a handkerchief in one of the strewn items of luggage and covered the driver’s face. Someone else brought a duster from his vehicle and covered the mate. Onlookers were crying, some frozen with horror at the sight of the injured and the dead.  A pickup came along. It had been transporting some plastic water barrels to Accra. It backed up close to the victims.

Crash truck

I got into the back of the pickup with one other guy while the others on the ground carried the man I’d done CPR on, the young guy with the broken femur, and the woman who was still yelling. To me that was the best sign so far. Keep yelling, woman. I tried to move the broken femur guy as much in one piece as possible, but it was difficult. One can never forget the glazed, fearful stare of a person in shock.

There were still two people trapped in the Hyundai. The decision was made to get the vehicle turned over the right side up. No, there were no fancy machines designed for this. We’re talking manpower. I thought it could not possibly be done.




But they did it. They actually turned the vehicle the right side up. Incredible. The next task was to get the victims out. No jaws of life available, if that’s what you were thinking. One guy went at the driver’s side with a hammer and machete, while the other tried a jack from his car to see if it could pry some of the metal apart. One of the victims inside was clearly already dead. The other was breathing sporadically. A couple onlookers said, “I think he’s dead already.” I told them he wasn’t and that they shouldn’t say it aloud in case the victim could hear.

Crash-worst view

Someone ingeniously thought to crawl inside the back and remove the middle and rear seats. This involved several minutes of unscrewing, tearing and tugging. Finally, the seats came out. Two guys grasped the barely alive passenger and push-pulled him out. As he came out I protected his head from falling back, to prevent a possible cervical spine injury. When we got him to the roadside, he did have a slow pulse. There was bloody foam emerging from his mouth – obviously not a good sign. I began CPR, but I didn’t have much hope for him.

Another pickup truck arrived and offered help. We loaded three more people up onto it and they were taken to Tema hospital. This accounted for all the passengers. although there was confusion over the exact number originally in the vehicle and in the heat of it all, I lost track.

The cops finally arrived, almost one hour after the crash. “Well, good afternoon,” I felt like saying. “I’m glad you guys made it so fast.” Get this: I looked at the ID name badge on one of the cops and it said, DARKO. They asked me and another guy a couple of questions, took a couple of pictures. Bernard (who by the way would make a good detective with his keen powers of observation) and I walked back a few meters and found where the minivan skid had begun. There was one clear tire track veering off the road through the grass making a beeline for the tree. I looked around for the cops to show them this feature. They were gone. They’d been there fifteen minutes tops. No close examination of the vehicle, minimal interviewing of witnesses and a pretty cursory job all around. I was stunned. Bernard looked at me as if I were from Mars. “Mr. Kwei, this is Ghana Police. If there’s no money to be made, they’re not going to do anything.” I should caution that that is Bernard’s personal cynical observation, and he’s plenty cynical. But he’s also an incisive social commentator.

The sad thing about these crash victims is that apart from the woman in black who kept up her healthy yelling, those who did not die immediately at the scene probably will. They should have all been monitored, receiving IV fluid and oxygen and even continued CPR on the way to the hospital, and thereafter specialized and rapid care. But Tema Hospital is not a trauma center. Without trauma surgeons on staff who can handle severe cases like this with major internal damage, survival is unlikely. So even the man who seemed to revive somewhat with my CPR will have taken his last few breaths on earth on Easter weekend when he had expected to spend a happy time with family and friends.

By the way, we never did make it to Somanya. I was filthy, bloody and soaked with sweat. I called Grace and Linus and told them we were calling it a day after all that had happened. Wishing me God’s blessings, they understood perfectly. I asked Bernard to drive home at a plodding 50 m.p.h. I’d had enough excitement for one day.