Throughout my life, I’ve lived in metropolitan areas. I’m accustomed to getting around using public transportation systems such as trains, buses, and trolleys, and they are an essential part of my life. As I prepared for my time in Ghana, I thought about how I would get around. I was told that I could use uber, taxis, a Ghanaian version of Uber called Yango, and form of transportation that was new to me called a tro-tro. A tro-tro is both similar to and different from the public buses in cities in the states. There are several different routes with stops where people can get on and off, the fare is cheap, and they operate constantly. Like many things in Ghanaian culture, the information is learned through word-of-mouth. There are a few online resources with tro-tro routes but they don’t always have accurate information and they’re not accessible to everyone. I wasn’t expecting tro-tro rides to be such a large part of my experience here, but even within the first month, I’ve gathered a lot of stories to tell. Through all of the mistakes and confusing situations, I’ve learned a lot about the tro-tro system, and I think they also work well as life lessons.
- Tro-tro mates will say anything to get your money. One of the first things I was told about riding the tro-tro was to ask the mate (the person who calls out the routes, stops, and collects the money) if the car will take me to where I need to go and confirm the fare. Every time I’ve gotten lost on the tro-tro, it was after the mate confirmed that I would be able to go to my stop. I quickly learned that I can’t always trust their word, especially if I’m going to that stop for the first time. I’ve learned to make sure that they actually know where you’re going and can take you there, or else you’ll end up wasting your money and time if things go south.
- Be as specific as possible when you tell them where you’re going…even though you may still end up lost. Sometimes things can get confusing when you tell the mate a general area or a stop that is also the name of another stop. In order to make sure you get to the right stop, I’ve learned to be as specific as possible with my stop. I live on Agbogba-Ashongman Rd., so I boarded an Agbogba-Ashongman tro-tro from a new departure stop thinking I would be dropped off in front of my house. I ended up in Ashongman village. I’m now more mindful of how there are different routes and locations that go by the same name. Since I made this mistake, I try to be as descriptive as I can when telling the mate where I’m going before paying my fare.
- Be patient. Tro-tros don’t begin their route until they’re full, which means that there could be a long wait time if you’re getting on at the beginning of the route (depending on the time of day and how popular the route is). The traffic in Ghana is also very bad at any given time throughout the day, which makes it hard to run on a tight schedule. Because of this, it’s important to plan ahead and be prepared for schedule changes. If I’m going somewhere that should only be 30 minutes away, I make sure to leave early enough in case it takes an hour instead.
- Be persistent and assertive. As a foreigner, it’s easy for me to be seen as vulnerable or confused. Since I want to protect my money and my time, I have to be assertive with how I handle my commute. I always make sure I get the correct change, and my stop isn’t missed. This has been helpful in various settings here. Even when I’m confused, staying calm and communicating with others clearly and confidently makes tough situations work out well.
- Stay alert. On the tro-tro, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. You have to be mindful of when the mate is collecting your fare, when you’ll need to move so the person next to you can get off, and when you’re approaching your stop. Being present during your tro-tro ride is imperative if you want to get to your destination with the as little stress as possible.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Someone will have the answers you need. Whenever I got lost on the tro-tro, there was always someone who would eventually help me with correct and useful information. It’s easy to get frustrated and feel hopeless when you’re trying to figure out a new setting, but have faith in yourself and the people around you to find a solution to the problem.
I appreciate my long tro-tro rides because they give me a chance to reflect on my days while taking in the world around me. Some of my favorite tro-tro moments include: the time a pastor gave a sermon to everyone in the car, the one time I got to ride in the front seat, and the evening when a movie was showing in the front of the car. I expect to see a lot more interesting things happen in tro-tros during the semester and I’m excited to become a pro tro-tro rider.