Learning the ropes to get around the capital Accra has been an interesting and rewarding experience. In a city that only recently started naming its streets, the locals still rely on landmarks, prominent buildings, and well-known spots. There’s something very rewarding about learning the name of an area, like you’re finally getting to know the city and the people. More importantly, it lets you communicate with the taxis and tro-tros.
After finishing a day with the amazing FEATS local project team, I sometimes feel energized enough to take the one-of-a-kind, born and bred in Ghana, tro-tro. You never know what kind of tro-tro you will find yourself in. Some have cushiony leather couches and TVs, and others have doors that seem to hold on through the shear physical strength of the mate. They all have drivers and mates, who collect the fair and yell the destination as they speed by, “Madina, Madina” or “Accra, Accra, Accra”. For the very advanced, you can simply look at their hand gestures to know where they’re going. Circling your hand with a finger pointed to the ground means you’re heading to Circle Station. Waving with your finger and thumb pointed out? That’s Lapaz. Actually knowing where that will bring you is the final (and arguably most crucial) step.
It can be a challenge getting a tro-tro home as it’s usually packed to the brim with evening commuters – everyone, from grocery clerks to bankers to school children, rides the tro-tros. As soon as I hear the mate yell out my destination, I’m ready to spring into action, jump in, and secure my spot for the ride home. After riding a few minutes, I reach out my hand to give him the GHS 1.20 (less than $0.50) fair. The mate sometimes (but not always) calls out the names of the stops as we go. “American House,” he’ll says and a passenger will respond, “bus stop.” The mate bangs on the side of the van to tell the driver to pull over; passengers smoothly shuffle around to let the person out and on we go.
I’ve ridden my fair share of tro-tros in Ghana. Not only in the city, but to travel to neighbouring regions too. While the tro-tro is a must-do experience in Ghana, I have to say I won’t miss being packed in like sardines on a bumpy dirt road in 30+C degree weather... or the very minimal protection they provide from the rain.