Coming from the States, I am accustomed to a very different kind of public transportation. I pay as soon as I enter the bus and I pull a string overhead my seat that informs the driver that I would like for the bus to stop so I may get off at my stop. There are individual seats, double seats, and larger seats in the front that are typically reserved for the elderly. Never hearing about a trotro and not knowing how to use one or what to expect, my first ride was an experience I’ll never forget.
Upon my arrival in Ghana, I witnessed these large Mercedes vans filled with pedestrians that had one person sticking their head out the window while making rapid hand motions and yelling terms I didn’t understand at others walking on the street. Little did I know that I would be riding these every day to work and be able to navigate my way around Accra.
Living near campus, I figured that since it was my second day of work I should leave a little early in case I got lost or something happened to the trotro. While walking to the stop, I saw people pushing and cutting each other in line in order to get a spot. I didn’t understand the system, so I sat back and watched trotros pass me for 30 minutes. Each trotro looked filled, so I didn’t approach them because I feared that I would miss an empty one. Come to find out, there is no such thing as an empty trotro. If you’re not at the station when it first starts, there will always be people inside and riding.
The men who were sticking their heads out of the window (which I later found out are called mates) were yelling word such as “Accra,” “Circle,” and “La Pas.” I had no idea of what these meant but I knew that The Finder was in the direction of Circle so I boarded that trotro. On my first day of work, my coworkers instructed me to get off at the Water Works, so that’s what I told the mate. I asked the mate how far Water Works was and he insisted that he would remind me and make sure that I got off at the right stop. Feeling confident in the mate, I sat back and enjoyed the ride even though I had no idea where I was going or if I had passed my stop.
Riding in traffic for about an hour and a half, I had a feeling that we had passed my stop and the mate had forgotten that I had asked him to remind me. I yelled “Mate, Water Works?” He looked back and me, shrugged his shoulders, and pointed ahead. I didn’t know what that meant because 1; He said something in Twi, 2; I hadn’t paid, 3; other passengers were laughing and 4; the trotro was almost empty so I knew we were near the end of the ride. Suddenly the mate instructed the driver to pull over and he snapped at me and said Water Works while instructing me to get out. Having no idea of my location, I hopped out of the trotro and hoped I was at the right spot. As I exited the trotro, many passengers laughed and shook their heads in pity. I knew I wasn’t in the right spot!
Confused and already late for work, I began to ask people on the street where I was and how far was I from my destination. I asked four different people and received four different answers. At this point, I figured it would be best to just head back home and try my luck again tomorrow, but I couldn’t just not show up on my second day of work. I’d rather be late and explain my story rather than not just show up. I ended up being a mile away from Circle and was instructed to take the La Pas trotro and tell the mate Water Works. I thought, “Isn’t that what I just did?”
I waved down the next trotro, sat right by the mate, and reminded him multiple times throughout the trip that I was getting off at Water Works. En route, I asked multiple passengers for help and to please warn me when we were approaching my stop. Without knowledge of the city, I had no idea that there were two Water Works and the one I was headed to was not the one I wanted. Arriving at my destination, I didn’t recognize anything around me and knew I wasn’t anywhere near The Finder.
Losing hope, I called for a taxi and instructed him to take me there. The taxi driver stated he knew where he was going, but he ended up dropping me off a mile and half away from The Finder. Lost with no cell phone and no one to ask for directions, I wandered the streets of Kanda and just luckily found my office. The feeling of relief that overwhelmed my body was indescribable. Even though I was three hours late to work, I learned how to take the trotro and haven’t got lost since this incident. Lesson learned.