Of all the things I’ve learned here in Ghana, I think the most effective has been the fake husband ploy. Back in California, I am the first person to say how ridiculous and demeaning it is for women to ward off unwanted male attention by claiming to be “taken” by someone else. I still stand by that statement–it is ridiculous; but sometimes life here is ridiculous. All you can do is lean into it. That being said, here is the Standard Operating Procedure for getting a cab in Accra as developed by Freya and Clara:
1. Stick out your hand and give it some jazz fingers.
2. Quickly jump back as your eager cabbie swerves slightly too close to you and hits the curb.
3. Put on a smile and lean in the window as you go through appropriate greetings. Always say “good morning/afternoon/evening.” Then let him know where you want to go and ask the price.
4. No matter what he says for the price, laugh and say NO. It’s not necessarily that he’s trying to cheat you, but cabbies will charge whatever they feel you’d be willing to pay. Cut whatever he asks for at least in half and state firmly that you LIVE here, you know the prices. Commence the haggling! At this point he will certainly complain about traffic, distance, his five kids, other obligations, and gas prices.
5. Remain calm, no matter how bad the traffic looks or how guilty you are feeling about haggling over two dollars. The only appropriate response is to once again laugh and dismiss it–there is always traffic and you simply never pay more than 7 cedi.
6. Proceed with haggling from there, but know your price ceiling. Turn on the charm and be firm, your price is your price. Once they see you won’t budge they’ll either drive off in a huff or begrudgingly let you in the car. Never get into a car without first setting the price. There is always another taxi.
7. Ask if they have change. This is important to do in order, that way they don’t think you have more then you’re bargaining to pay, and can’t change the price by saying they haven’t got change.
8. Once you’ve settled on a price, stick to it, even if he tries to change it at the end.
9. Most importantly, when asked if you’re married, the answer is always YES.
This is where taxi riding can get fun. If you have to be fake married, it might as well be to someone awesome, like Astronaut Mike Dexter. Feel free to get creative, but try to maintain the same story line for all husbands. If you branch out too much, there will come a day when you hop into some cab and the driver turns to you and says “Akweya! So good to see you, how is your husband? I never see him when I drive past your house!” And then you have to try and remember how many kids you have, what your husband does, his name, and who’s photo you used in your phone to convince this guy that Astronaut Mike Dexter wasn’t fictional. No where else in the world will your cabbie remember you, your name, your address, and your fictional life, except in Accra.
One iteration of potential taxi awkwardness comes when your cab driver mixes you up with the only other white girl on your block. If I had a cedi for every time I’ve had a cab driver turn to me ask how my Ebola research is going, I’d never have to pay a cab again.
While all of this may seem awkward and unnecessary, the alternative is to go down the “Why aren’t you married, why don’t you marry me” rabbit hole, which usually ends in disappointment and awkward feelings all around. Explaining to a total stranger that no you won’t take them home with you and can’t take them to the USA is much harder than inventing fake husbands.
Maybe someday we’ll all live in a world where this is more laughable than crazy making. It’s a fine line.