At Citi FM and Citi TV, I work primarily as a journalist. My job description includes gathering news, processing, and presenting it. Nothing in there requires me to host the company’s guests and wait on them like ushers and hotel attendants do.
And so when I had the privilege of being on the 2023 edition of the Citi Heritage Caravan, I knew it was just another opportunity to see Ghana in its raw state and provide me more ammunition in my quest to demand for development of our motherland. I did not know that the 7-day tour of Ghana I was about to embark on, was also going to be my 7-day crash course on the hospitality industry.
Imagine hosting over 150 total strangers in one house for 7 days where you play the role of a host who must smile and cater for their every need. I know you may be thinking… well, hotels host more than that number and the staff are just fine. Yes. But here is the dodgy part: We were hosting these total strangers in 3 buses for 7 days and we would be doing this in 7 different hotels in different parts of the country.
Do not forget, that the Citi staff hosting these people play totally unrelated roles in the company. None of us is from the hospitality industry. A graphic designer, a sound technician, a sales executive, a security man, a receptionist, a driver, a camera/drone operator, a journalist, etc.
That is the rag-tack team of hosts supporting a few members of the Events Department of the company to deliver this extraordinary feat. But it has happened successfully in the past years and I was certain it would be successful this time too. My only concern was how I was going to fit into this new role.
The activities of the dawn of Saturday, March 4, 2023, gave me the first incline into what to expect over the next 7 days. I found myself a part of a team that was playing the role of bus conductors in terminals- calling out passengers and inviting them to join one bus or another. We were acting as though we were airline staff processing people through departure formalities at the airport.
We did not check the weights of people’s bags as the airport guys did, nor did we check their passports, but we sure tagged their bags in specific colours and gave them name tags, with a gentle but firm warning that said: Wear that at all times, else, we would leave you behind at a rest stop!
We did that with that everlasting smile of a cabin crew member of an international airline who walks in the aisle of the airplane to ask: “Tea or Coffee?”
That morning, I found myself on the phone, at least, 3 times, frantically calling caravanites who were late and delaying our “take off” with a warning that they would miss the trip if they did not show up in the next 5 minutes or so. Soon, a man would emerge, dragging his luggage and sweating profusely while explaining that he did not expect the traffic to be heavy at Madina Zongo Junction that morning.
Luckily, no luggage was left unattended because each bag was tagged with a ribbon whose colour matched one of the 3 buses. A caravanite may forget his luggage at the point of loading, but trust Tajudeen, an energetic member of the Citi team who was also playing the role of “loading boy” to haul that luggage, no matter how heavy, onto the appropriate bus. This was done by the Citi team at many locations without complaints.
Caravanites were sorted and counted as though they were ballot papers before the 3 buses and the accompanying escort vehicles roared out of the premises of Citi TV in Tesano, Accra a little after 8am that clear Saturday morning.
The journey to the Volta Region was more familiar to me than the location of the water pot in my father’s house.
I knew, based on the destination we were headed, that the caravan would use the second main exit out of Accra to the Volta Region which is the Tema-Akosombo highway and I knew that in just a little over an hour into the journey, we would spot the baboons of the Shai Hills game reserve ushering us into Asutsuare Junction, my beloved village of birth.
Aided by a police escort, the convoy escaped the Saturday morning gridlocks and was soon crossing the massive Volta River via the suspended Adomi Bridge at Atimpoku in the Eastern Region. By this time, we had entered Region 2, of the 14-region tour.
At breakfast time back at Citi TV, a colleague who hails from the Upper West Region remarked to me that, the way our “passengers” were consuming all manner of combinations at the buffet table, we were bound to run into difficulties during the journey. That was a prophetic statement.
By the second hour of the journey, the kenkey, rice, eggs, tea, coconut juice, sausage, pancake and shito that some people had poured into their bellies had finished forming a volcanic chemical equation in their small intestines and these volcanoes were threatening to not only to tear through their prisoners’ under garments, but through the seats of the STC buses we were travelling on and create a horrible mess.
“Please stop immediately!” I wrote on our staff management platform. “A patron on Bus 3 urgently needs to do Number 2”, I declared.
That was the SOS message that would fill half the chats we would be having on our WhatsApp platform for the next 7 days. And within minutes after I posted it on the platform, the entire convoy pulled over on the shoulder of the road a few kilometres before Asikuma Junction.
The pressed patron self-ejected from the bus and was followed by dozens of others on my bus as well as Bus 1 and 2 who were in a similar or worse situation but who were either too shy to raise the alarm or were unsure what to do under the current circumstance.
The owner of the cassava farm that was invaded by the caravanites that morning may not need to apply fertilizer to his crops for the rest of the season due to the sheer amount of manure dumped on his soil at that moment.
It would take days, before people could manage their stomachs and bladders, aided, of course, by advice from the two medical doctors on board who have been holding clinics both on board and off the buses.
By this time, the reality of the absence of public washrooms on our highways had hit us all hard. The team, therefore, deployed a plan where we did hourly, or two-hour stops whether or not caravanites requested.
Ladies were guided to one side of the road for privacy while the men stood at the other side and projected the contents of their bowels into the nearby leaves and grasses which groaned in vain over the acidic showers pouring on them. When a bus captain puts an alert for the caravan to stop, the skilled STC drivers and the drivers of the lead cars would have to find a convenient and safe place to stop.
But not all patrons can be that patient for the stop. At one point, a caravanite on my bus had to pee in a water bottle because he could simply not hold it any longer. Of course, what do you expect when he has been drinking everything in the ice chests strategically placed in the aisle of the bus? After that encounter, I noticed he seldom opened the ice chest for drinks.
We did not only cater for patrons while on the bus. We served as hosts at the hotels and tourist sites that were visited. The rule was simple: the Citi staff would only go to bed after the last caravanites go to bed and the Citi staff have to be ready by the buses before the caravanites woke up and if the caravanites are not waking up, go bang on their doors or call their hotel rooms to ensure they don’t delay the bus. We executed that with ease, you would think we were the dawn rooster.
Over the next 7 days, caravanites would explore some of Ghana’s rich tourist sites including the Amedzofe Mountain’s canopy walkway, Bonwire kente village, Paga crocodile pond, Mole national park and the Asin Manso Slave River among others. This would be interlaced with random stops in the middle of nowhere for caravanites to emerge from their buses carrying huge speakers from which blurred loud music to set the stage for an inter-bus dance competition which is of course, always won by the most exciting bus on the caravan, Bus 3.
There were other stops like the one at Bunso where patrons simply disembark to swallow morsels of fufu as though their lives depended on it. Actually, their lives depended on it because without it, the journey ahead would be done on empty stomachs and that would destroy everything.
The occasional night club sessions and the live band music shows and the cultural performances, and the competitions in the swimming pools, as well as exhibitions like the one at the Red Clay studios in Nanton in the Northern Region, would keep patrons up all night although they had warm beds awaiting them in some of the most beautiful hotels Ghana has on offer.
The Royal Senchi Resort, Noda Hotel in Ejisu, GANASS & Ex-Tee Hotels in Bolga, Global Dream Hotel in Tamale, Eusbert Hotel in Sunyani, Maaha Beach Resort in Atuabo and the Ridge Royal & Pempamsie Hotels in Cape Coast would offer patrons comfort after the weary nights.
Of course, the caravan also brought to the fore challenges with accommodation in some parts of the country which would lead to the debate on how prepared Ghana’s hospitality industry is for the tourism drive.
Although the Heritage Caravan offered patrons an insight into the domestic tourism industry, it also offered a unique opportunity for these otherwise, total strangers to bond together and form a family. No matter how boring you are, you can’t be mute on an 8-hour bus ride where people are playing games, dancing to loud music, engaging in sometimes, pointless debates, listening to the raps that my co-bus captain Nana Tuffour was spitting with ease, eating sumptuous snacks, or simply raising the blinds on the windows to take in the beautiful Black and White Voltas which shine beautifully from the sunset showing that if not affected by galamsey, our water bodies are a vast natural resource.
In the 7-days of journeying across Ghana, the Citi staff coordinating the tour have learnt how to find and return missing luggage, serve as tour guides by answering questions from patrons, take complaints from patrons about the number of towels in their hotel rooms or the lack thereof, listen to elderly people groan about their aching joints and the most difficult of all, to stand aside and watch for patrons to eat the best part of the buffet in the hotels and restaurants before helping themselves, before ensuring no one is left behind by re-echoing Frema’s “Let’s Go, Let’s Go,” chant after every rest stop.
I will never forget how an elderly man asked me to serve him banku and okro stew at dinner one evening because his knee had given up on him. I queued and got him the food. Then, I retreated to wait for everyone to eat before joining the Citi team to get served. By the time it was our turn, my favourite banku and okro, which by this time had formed a beautiful aroma in my nostrils had finished.
This did not hurt me as much as the fact that when I stood in the queue with a bowl in hand to take the man’s food, I could sense the ever-vigilant eyes of our CEO, Sammens following me. He was obviously wondering why I had breached protocol and joined the queue for food when patrons had not finished eating. That was an unforgivable sin and I could have easily made history for being the first-ever staff to receive a Memo on a Caravan.
I had to quickly disengage from the queue and explain to him why I was queueing for food. Now, if after all that stress, I missed that banku and okro stew, the only thing I need to do, is to make sure I do not miss the next Caravan because Eeeeiiii! You must not miss it too, because, the banku and okro stew would be more sumptuous on the next Heritage Caravan.
And oh, I have heard that previous caravans have resulted in total strangers becoming lovers and getting married. And I have seen signs of it already and if it works well, the caravanites will soon be attending series of wedding ceremonies whose antecedent is from the Citi Heritage Caravan 2023. You never know. Your Mr. Right, may well be on Bus 3 of the Heritage Caravan in 2024. Let’s go!!!