6:30 a.m. rolls around, and our African abode fills with the default alarm ring from our 15 candy-bar MTN cell phones. I climb down my rickety bunk bed ladder, hunched down to avoid my head hitting the deadly ceiling fan, and tip-toe out of the room so I don’t wake Elora. I make my standard breakfast: a packet of instant oatmeal, dried blueberries, and a freshly cut mango I bought the night before from the fruit stand lady at the American House Bridge Junction. I sparingly pour myself a half-cup of coffee from our French press and sit at the table with some friends who are doing the same.
After breakfast I brush my teeth with my overpriced lime green panda toothbrush bought from the local mall in the kitchen sink using only bottled water. I do NOT want to get sick again on this trip. I grab my backpack, shove my zip locked bag of almonds inside, and think about my two options for transportation to work. 1) Wait at the American House Bridge Junction for my tro, which is a three minute walk down a red dirt path from our house, but risk not getting one because they’re usually full from the previous stop. 2) I make the fifteen minute walk to American House Junction and have better luck finding one there because it’s a more central location. Hmm… I’ll choose the latter of the two today; I’d rather walk than wait.
Crazy hand signals and mates hollering from their tros fill the humid and polluted air. In thick Ghanaian accents I hear various tro destinations: “Med, med, med, med, med, Mediiiiiinaaaaa!” “Cr, cr, cr, cr, cra, craaaa, craaaaay, Accra!” “Si, si, si, si, si si, Ciiirrrrrrrcle!” That’s the one I need… I think.
I walk to the mate, sticking out like a fly in a glass of milk, dodging people all the while, and ignoring the constant hissing and Obruni-calls to reconfirm that he did, in fact, say Circle. Let me tell you, there would be nothing worse than being squished on a tro during Accra morning traffic knowing you’re headed to the wrong place.
I hoist myself up with my heavy backpack and make my way to the only available seat in the very back next to three men who all have vibrantly patterned work clothes. They stare at me confused. The doors and windows are all open and the tro is still hot as an oven. After I take my seat, we get rolling and the mate collects my eighty pesewas; I always feel so cool exchanging Ghanian money. I put in my earbuds, listen to some Jessie J and sit back, seatbeltless, squished between a row of Ghanain men and the broken tro door to enjoy the roller coaster ride on the way to my internship at the Media Foundation for West Africa.
An hour and a half later, a typical work commute time, we approach Circle, which is a central area for tros to come and go. It’s sort of under a huge overpass with an obnoxiously large coke advertisement that scans the entire four-lane freeway. That’s my cue to get out. I stand still in the hustle and bustle of the Accra morning, but to gain my bearings, I look for the blue gas station on the other side of the freeway. I see it, score. I breath a sigh of relief and switch from my Jessie J playlist to some Karmin; home girl knows how to add a little pep to my step. Crossing freeways here is normal so I skip right to it with little hesitation. Yes, I have almost been hit and no, I will never do this in the United States.
The blue gas station is on my left which means I need to be on the right side of the overpass. I move accordingly and head down the narrow dirt path that has the overpass incline on the left and a disgusting gutter on the right. Broken flip-flips, trash of all kinds, and a mysterious greenish grey substance fill the gutter with a revolting stench I can practically see rise from the depths of despair… I regain my confidence that I’m headed in the right direction as I pass a frail and leathered lady who has made her home on the incline. She reaches her hand out for money at each person who passes by. I only give her smiles and hellos each day but she doesn’t seem to mind. I round a bend and continue walking up a nameless road, all the while avoiding the persistent hissing and Obruni shout-outs by groups of men and women in their shops.
Fifteen minutes of walking later I ironically see my beacon of hope: an unlit broken King David Hotel sign. Media Foundation is to the left of here, practically a hop, skip, and jump away. I eagerly approach the sign, like a gnat to a bug zapper, and turn left up the road. The left turn feel so good. I pass two more junctions dodging cars and tros, and finally hit the firm red dirt that lines the pathway outside of my internship. It’s smooth sailing from here, like stepping onto a conveyer belt at an airport.
I pass one more fruit stand inhabited by a good humored Ghanian lady. I pull out one ear bud to make my morning greeting in Twi and she responds accordingly, then proceeds to laugh hysterically. I laugh with her, like a silly naive Obruni, though I suspect she is laughing at me. I put the earbud back in and swing open the gate to Media Foundation with confidence: I have made it to another day of work. I make my way inside, and as Brokenhearted by Karmin comes to an end, I can still hear her distant laughter. Hopefully I make her day as much as she makes mine.