Back again for my infrequent updates of my travels while studying abroad in Accra, Ghana.
To say that I am enjoying myself is not only an understatement, but also an insult. I am taking in every experience possible, without hesitation or question. And in doing so, I’ve managed to be safe and have a ridiculous amount of fun! For certain, if I was in NY, I would be stressed, swamped in work and more than likely, bored out of my mind.
Here, however, it’s the absolute opposite.
I’ve immersed myself into the maze of public transportation, and like other developing countries some Ghanaians use a form of informal transportation via the tro tro ‘
service‘– and I use the word service very loosely. Because to be very honest, for some Ghanaians customer satisfaction is not the number one priority in providing services. So when getting on board a tro tro be sure to ask clarifying questions like, “where is this going?” And provided that you know where you are going, you can declare in an uncertain voice “Osu?”
Sounds obvious right? But it is so easy to not only get lost in a place where you are totally unfamiliar, but also in a place where–like many cities– people are simply trying to get through their day, get to where they’re going and to make a dollar. So far, I haven’t gotten lost, but I know a couple of other students who have.
Standing a designated bus stop (or simply by the street side) with traffic whizzing by, vendors and peddlers bustling up and down the sidewalk and in between cars– suddenly a 13 seater van pulls up. Some passengers hop out, others stare on, eyeballing the oncoming passenger. The mate, or the guy who serves as the driver’s assistant in collecting fares, among other things, shouts Osu! Osu! Osu! Osu! aggressively pointing at the van. Before you know it, another van pulls up, over flowing with people–elbows and black faces jutting out of cloudy, sliding windows. The other mate persists over the voice of his rival, Osu! Osu! Osu! Osu! pointing even more insistently than his counterpart. Now you’re left with the choice, but you have one concern: you aren’t sure if the place you’re going to is on the way to Osu. What do you do? You can ask, but the mates are in such a hurry to gather new passengers to replace the old ones in the midst of everyone shuffling to get on.
You can imagine how you can easily get swept in and end up at the wrong destination–not to mention if the mate dupes you. He can easily not give you back change because he knows not only are you an obruni by your accent, but you more than likely don’t know where the hell you’re going. Nonetheless the fare will more than likely be less than 1 cedi, which is roughly about $.50 USD. At times, you’ll even pay as little as 30 pesewas –about $.15 USD.
Photo of typical tro tro in Ghana (photo credit: ghanaweb.com)
In all of this, I must say I have a love-hate relationship with the tro tro system. Sometimes they can even break down, or the interior may be so rusted and tattered, you have to be careful where you step or sit. But once you do find that tattered seat in which you’re comfortable, riding a tro tro is a fun experience. You can meet friends; you may even see some of same people on their daily route. Eyeing traffic and seeing women carry a basket full of plantain chips on her head are all scenes and interactions that can easily be overlooked when riding in a chauffeured, air-conditioned car service. There is more of a distance created between us and them when sitting in an avis rental versus a Twi inscribed tro tro among average, everyday Ghanaians.
To me, it’s crucial to any abroad adventure that you take part in the activities and mundane experiences of the locals. So live a little, sweat a little.
image credit: info-ghana.com