The communal bliss of ‘Aro Glass’

September 28, 2017
Source: Dziedzom Atoklo l thebftonline l Ghana
The communal bliss of ‘Aro Glass’

The sharp turn launched me right in the arms of the heavy laden with goods light-skinned woman. With a small curl to her lip and a quick rap of words to my face and a quick shove, I was turned right on to my side and the chatter went on like nothing happened and I hadn’t caused the biggest blander in this journey of new beginnings.

Ensconced between two large women, feet and arms have no resting place, goods spilled over with crying children trying to reach out for the snacks their tired mothers offered them while trying to think of the next journey.

I smiled a little and shook fear off my shoulders and tried to make conversation, my first attempt earned me the word “ameyeye” I was truly a newbie to the Mamprobi Tuesday market and the ride in the beautiful wooden car with the breeze gently blowing my hair, wait, did I just mention blowing my hair? Scratch that, there is hardly any breathing space yet it is the joy of many, why? Join me find out

The ride has many names and doesn’t allow you move a hand to try rolling up your windows and that is the beauty of it all; call it “aro glass” or “tsolorley” as my Ga friends do, “anlo petu” as the Akans call it to signify the roads it plies, bone-shaker, or simply what the English call it, the Bedford. The wooden planks around it and interior shows the ingenuity of its maker.

This ride has a rich history and came with a lot of spunk that has died down over the years. However, this market—a little fountain of loud noise and brisk business stores this legend with ease.

Made in the 18th century, “aro glass” as it is popularly called, was the predominant means of transportation in the era where many a market women and travellers wanted to made quick work of moving from one place to the other. 

Many men and women have memories of fun times in it, travelling from one end of the country to the other visiting family and friends, distributing goods and just taking in the tsolorley experience. The ‘aro glass’ has come a long way from being a means of transport for people to becoming a major means of moving goods from one place to another. Many Senior High Schools take theirs out on what they call shopping days. They carry items like bags of rice, bags of beans, bags of sugar and the like.

I wondered for a very long time how these rides managed to be so fun with the women toppling over whenever it turned a certain way, so I went to good ole Mamprobi to figure out the origins of the aro glass, and the joys of riding in one; if it is any different from the trotro journey.  I make my way to the Mamprobi Tuesday market and I’m immediately greeted with sounds of market women calling to customers with the usual enthusiasm to come buy some of their wares or at least take a look at it.

Unlike other markets, the Mamprobi market has scores of the infamous aro glass making the run from one end to the other, heaving towards a particular angle because it is over loaded with goods. The market has boasted of many years of joy but has reportedly has a reduction in its patronage forcing some market women to move to the streets to sell their wares. One market woman, let’s call her Auntie Naa, who has experienced the new and old and says, her first time on the boneshaker was a journey from Accra to Kwahu which was a scary; one with a poignant stench of ‘koobi’ and a funny smell emanating from the raised armpits of the mate trying to make his way to various passengers sitting atop the quarter bench that added more muscle to her already hard bum.  She laughs quickly and says it is an experience she will never forget and one she will never try again for not even for a million Ghana cedis. Many others in the market seem to heave a sigh of relieved when you start a chatter on the aro glass and softly say in their thick Ga accent you are lucky they are only used for loading foodstuff nowadays like you’ll see if you’ll still look the same after the journey.  The trucks have very interesting inscriptions at their backs such as ‘nipa ny3’, ‘wisdom’, ‘it’s great to be young’, and many more. The last of the bulging beauty spotted in other regions specifically in the Western Region is ‘Wisdom’ in the late 1970s. 

The Bedford boneshaker is believed to have been made in the early 1920s with its manufacturers based in Canada and assembled in Britain by General Motor (GM) and was bought out by---- it has gone through many changes.

Another customer of the Tuesday market describes it as the joy of her life, in her words; “Accra is beautiful” it has many colours and it was the place to learn to fall in love with women with loads on their heads and babies scrapped at their backs with sweat dripping down their faces, shoving quickly past one another yet being careful not to push aside anyone’s wares. If one made the mistake to tip over one’s goods; the earth came down on him or her with heavily set women old enough to crush one under their feet and swallow you up in their quick rasps of perfect Ga or Twi.

 However, they swiftly move on to the act of finding ‘kayayei’ head potters to carry more of their wares from the store house to their stalls. The chatter and colour that greeted one at the market has died down just as fast as the boneshaker became, a thing for schools to take out on shopping days. It comes alive on Tuesday but with very few people moving around and the boneshakers coughing out dark smoke in protest of being stuffed to a point of kneeing over and giving up.

A man with a turban wrapped around his head sits at the metal divided front, and an arm draped on the door, gently point out to the driver where to manoeuvre and make sure his goods find their home.

The joy and saddest that the boneshaker brought with its existence has been showcased all over and as the curtains draw over its long and beautiful journey, many have found ways to keep it with us. Legendary artist Ablade Glover has a painting of it, some can be found in museums in Britain, and as interesting and hospitable as Ghanaians are, you can get a few coffin makers—making it a final resting place for some drivers.

Next time you see me, just shout ‘hello’, you never know, I might be cruising in the front seat of a boneshaker with the inscription; ‘see you another time’.