One of the most common hazards for moto drivers in Tamale, Ghana, is animals on the road. Learning how different animals will behave when a vehicle approaches is one of the key ways to keep safe driving moto in Northern Region. Here is what you can expect:
In the diagrams below, the red represents the location and velocity of objects on the road at time 0. (Yes I know these can't technically be simultaneously measured but give me a break I am a social scientist.) Red points indicate zero velocity. The black represents the probable location of these objects during the time it takes the moto to move through that space on the road, with darker lines represent higher probability of the object being in that space.
Lizards are all over the place in Northern Ghana. Mostly they sit around and do push-ups or clamor over your walls making a racket. Occasionally they decide to cross the road. Their quick, flick-y movements may make you jump, but don't worry-- they will go straight across, and they are quick enough that the probability of lizard guts on your tires is low.
Even the white Toyota Landcruisers favored by overly-pampered, well-funded development workers won't go up against a cow in the road, and the cows know it. They won't move except under duress of a slipper wielded by a small boy. You will have to go around them. If they are many, be prepared to honk your horn in vain while they decide which side of the road they really want to be on.
Goats are the ideal animal to encounter on the road in Northern Ghana. Street smart and properly aware of their place in the road hierarchy, they will run away and off the road at the approach of a vehicle. The exception: goats often like to sleep on highways at night. Beware of groggy goats when driving early in the morning.
While goats are the ideal animal to encounter on the road, sheep are bane of Ghanaian drivers. Dismally stupid, they will invariably run directly into traffic. An experienced motorist will, counter-intuitively, plot a trajectory behind the sheep. The difference in behavior between sheep and goats makes distinguishing the two a key survival skill in Tamale. Remember: tail up, goat; tail down, sheep.
After a chicken perceives an oncoming vehicle while crossing the road, its velocity can be modeled with a random walk, plus a constant increase in speed of averaging 1 ft/second. Use this formula to calculate the most probable route of the chicken, and avoid it. Alternatively, just keep going. A chicken ain't no cow.
In all seriousness, take care to watch for animals when driving in Ghana. If an animal is on the road, your first priority should be the safety of you and the people around you-- don't try to stop for a chicken or lizard if it would endanger you or others. If you hit and kill an animal of economic value (goat, sheep or chicken), and the owner is around, you may have to compensate the owner. Typical prices for strong, adult animals are 5 GHC for a chicken, 35 GHC for a goat and 50 GHC for a sheep (another reason sheep are the bane of drivers.) However, a sincere apology may be suffice. I heard about a man who hit and killed a goat, and after arguing with the entire village for an hour, was allowed to go on his way-- after he promised he would never ever hit another goat.
I have worked in economic policy and research in Washington, D.C. and Ghana. My husband and I recently moved to Guyana, where I am working for the Ministry of Finance. I like riding motorcycle, outdoor sports, foreign currencies, capybaras, and having opinions.