The act of releasing a collared shirt from the confines of dress pants had never symbolized so much. A sign of satisfaction following a first day of greetings and interning at Metro TV, an escape from Ghana’s pervasive humidity, and the beginning of a new adventure. Closing my first day at work opened the door to the tro tro. As you have read from my peers’ blog posts commenting on their many adventures on the tro tro (privately owned buses operating as commuter vehicles for the masses of Accra), each ride offers a new take on Ghanaian ideology, hospitality and lifestyle. My first ride alone was indeed a new take on life in Ghana.
In Ghana, the ridiculousness of life strikes at a moment’s notice, as I would soon find out. The sun began to set as I waited with my coworker Akwesi, who kindly showed me to the nearest tro tro stop. My goal was to find a ride towards Medina. We soon spotted the first tro tro but the mate (the fare collector) yelled out the window in a nasally voice that the tro tro was headed to Accra. Tro tro after tro tro passed, but each car was either packed to the brim with workers heading home or was going to different destinations.
Finally, in the distance we spotted a tro tro that promised hope, as I saw two friendly faces crammed near the back window. It was Ben and Emily, two of my cohort peers. A feeling of relief washed over me as I was second to board the tro tro and my ride home would involve stories amongst the comfort of friends. Yet, to my dismay, the tro tro driver put out his hand and shook his head. “No room,” he said. I stood on the side of the road as Ben and Emily’s empathizing expressions of sorry and good luck became smaller and smaller in the distance.
Even for Akwesi, waiting 30 minutes for a tro tro was unheard of. He told me that I could catch a ride to Thirty Seven (to me, the stop sounds like “tets seven”) and transfer to a vehicle going to Medina. Alas, a tro tro with a mate shouting Thirty Seven arrived at my bus stop. Eagerness took control as I was the first to board the tro tro. There were only a few seats left and I took a seat in the very back of the twenty seat tro tro next to a lady dressed in a floral pattern dress, listening to her FM transmitter radio. I gave a thumbs up to Akwesi and was on my way.
The lady glanced at me, smiled and asked me how I was doing. I decided to respond in Twi and told her I was good (Me ho ye) and asked her how she was doing (Nawonsue?). She was surprised by my little knowledge of Twi and broke out in a chorus of laughter. I told her my name and stuck out my hand. She then gave a coy look and told me she was sick. I appreciated her honesty and asked for hers. “Why, my name is Angel,” she responded. What an interesting name. Unfortunately, my Twi only goes so far and there was a lull in the conversation. Angel then asked if I had a phone number. This is a question I have gotten quite often, and a question that always seems to hold ostensible motives. Apprehensive to give Angel my number, I told her I have no Ghanaian contact.
Not sure whether Angel’s English was sub par or she was just persistent, she continued to ask. To try and sway her, I asked for hers instead. At this point, the conversation took a turn for the bizarre. “If you give me your number, you can have me whenever you want.” I was stunned and suppressed the need to laugh awkwardly. At this point it made a little more sense why the passengers kept glancing back at Angel during our ride to Thirty Seven. I decided to keep my mouth shut and rode slowly in silence as I listened to the high frequency static emitting from Angel’s headphones.
It was beginning to get dark and traffic was at a stand still. The commuters looked tired and ready to get home. I noticed Angel was looking at the corner of the window with great intensity. Without a moment’s notice, a long line of spittle shot out of her mouth and onto the floor of the tro tro. This was no average spit. This was a conscious, calculated spit that took minutes for Angel to collect (sorry for the graphic detail). In my mind, I was freaking out. I was hot, tired, and trapped. Angel was to my left and another passenger was to the right of me. Angel continued to fuss with her transmitter until a familiar melody passed through the radio waves—none other than the Eagles classic Hotel California. I looked on at the rows of cars in front of us as Angel and I listened to the hits from the ‘70s in the heart of Accra.
We were on a slight incline when it happened. The tro tro made a lurch and sputtered out. There was a murmur among the passengers as the mate and a few up front got out to push from the back and assist the car to the side of the road. Again, a woman looked back at Angel. This apparently upset Angel, who tapped the lady on the shoulder. At first Angel seemed calm, but with the flip of a switch she began yelling Twi with the ferocity of an angered prostitute. I did not comprehend anything coming out of her mouth, only the anger in her eyes and the sweat on her brow. Through the barrage of words that Angel spat at the passenger one word did stick out to me—H.I.V. Still trapped, sweating and worried for my safety, I stared straight forward as the exchange of words between the two women was complemented with aggressive hand gestures. Just when things seemed to be getting interesting, the driver told everyone to get out of the tro tro. I was still paralyzed by the insanity of the situation and did not dare move. For what seemed like an eternity, each passenger left the tro tro. As soon as it was my turn, I nodded to Angel and darted my ass out to safety and fresh air.
Still trying to grasp the fiasco that had just occurred on my first tro tro ride that spanned the distance of one mile in 20 minutes, I looked over to see two women laughing hysterically. I went over to ask one of the women why they were laughing. Again, maybe the language barrier caused a misinterpretation, but she responded, “Because the prostitute had HIV.” At this point on my eventful journey home, I accepted this as a valid answer and helped the lady carry her bags of cloth to the nearest tro tro station under the dim hum of the streetlights. If you ever need to call Angel, let me know.