By Catherine Ryan for the Accra Mail
This morning while I was riding the trotro to work, I was sandwiched in between two people, and we were stuck in traffic. My seatmates were practically sitting on me, and I on them, yet I couldn’t help but smile. This, after all, was a true Ghanaian experience.
I have been in Accra for a week now with 13 other University of Oregon, USA students. The first part of our stay was comprised partly of touring the region in an air conditioned bus.
We were separate from what was going on around us—the beats of hip life blasting from a loudspeaker, the dusty heat of the street, the stench of the lagoon.
Not so in the trotro. All sorts of people mix in the converted vans, and I’ve gotten a much better sense of Accra through riding (and getting lost on) the trotro.
I am struck by Ghanaians’ resourcefulness. Yesterday the sliding door of the trotro fell off its track. If that had happened to my own car in the United States, I would have taken it to the mechanic, waited for days and shelled out a wad of dollars to repair it.
Here, the driver pulled over, and after a few tugs and pushes, the collector had fixed it. We were on our way, door intact.
I have also found Ghanaians to be enterprising. Men and women hawk meat pies, water packets, clothes hangers and towels from the road.
I can buy minutes for my cell phone, bananas or a wooden stool from the window. Hawking is undoubtedly a difficult job.
I respect the entrepreneurship of the countless hawkers offering their wares between lanes of traffic.
I am most staggered by—and immensely grateful for—the kindness of strangers.
This morning while I was riding to work by myself for the first time, the collector looked at me, surprised. “La Paz,” I told him again.
The entire trotro erupted in Twi. I caught a few phrases—“Daabi,” “Madina,” “La Paz.” My limited Twi wasn’t enough to translate the conversation, but it was obvious everyone was talking about the clueless oburoni. I had missed my stop and gone too far.
Following the instructions of a man sitting in front on me, I alighted, crossed the street and hopped on another trotro going toward La Paz.
Another kind man pointed out where I should stop and directed me to the queue headed for Circle. He then rode with me to make sure I found my destination.
Before my arrival in Ghana, I most feared riding the trotro. Yes, it is confusing: Most of the time I don’t know which one to take and where to alight.
It is frustrating: Sitting stalled in traffic requires more patience than I am used to mustering in my commute.
And it is uncomfortable: My body is unaccustomed to the heat, and my knees bear bruises from banging into the metal bars of the seat ahead of me.
I’m sure I’ll continue to struggle with navigating the city, but I’m happy to witness some of the best aspects of Ghana from the seat of a trotro.