What is trotro?
Trotro is one of the most common means of transportation in Ghana. It's a privately owned minibus / mini-van stuffed with as many seats as possible.
These trotros drive between certain destinations without any fixed schedules (the bus moves when it gets full) or specific routes (when it's rush hour and half of Accra's population is stuck in the main roads waiting to get home from the heat and the dust, your trotro driver might choose to take any next turn to the bumpy side roads to find a smarter way forward).
Majority of the low and middle income commuters and students use trotros on daily basis. It's the most affordable - and the most experiential! - way of moving around.
During the years I've spent in Ghana, I've taken trotros hundreds of times. And quite a lot of things have come on the way. One of the most memorable ones ended like this:
It's not just about traveling...
For me most kilometers traveled by trotros have not just offered lovely and interesting daily life experiences of Ghana but also deep journeys to some big self- and life-discoveries.
"When sitting in a full trotro as a foreigner,
standing out from the crowd is unavoidable.
And that really makes you feel just how different you are
from everything and everybody around you."
I watch a woman take coins from a hidden folded and tied corner of her wrap dress, hand them to the mate (trotro driver's assistant, who collects money from travelers) and ask for the change with a loud and confident voice.
I smile to the happy young men wearing their well ironed school uniforms, getting down from the car.
A young mother sitting next to me picks Dave's slipper from the trotro floor and wears it for him.
A loud male voice behind me asks: " Why is obroni traveling by trotro?"
An elderly lady places a huge basket full of oranges next to me and sits down on the other head of the seat row. Both of us are quiet but curiously peeping at each other.
Some young guy wishes me welcome to Ghana and starts to introduce the best places to visit in the country with great excitement.
And I ask myself: Who am I? What am I doing? Why am I here? Why are we so different?
Feeling different makes you question a lot of things you always took for granted and never really thought about before.
The next moment I realize it's time to alight and I push myself through the crowd, jump out from the trotro down to the street, and find myself in the middle of another crowd. I feel many people watching me after my clumsy "trotro trick" and to be honest, I feel a bit awkward again.
"I'm completely out of my comfort zone
but that's what makes me grow and learn about life.
That's the reason I'm here!"
Sometimes I feel absolute peace enjoying the cool breeze blowing through the car window and listening to reggae beats through the chest pounding car speakers. Knowing that i'm exactly where I'm supposed to be.
And the best thing about trotro?
The mate, of course!
In every trotro, there's a guy, the mate, sitting (or mostly standing / hanging outside the minibus... I always wonder how they make it!?) among the passengers and managing the business inside out! He brings and pushes people in and out, shouts the destination through the window (Labadi-Teshie-Nungua, Labadi-Teshie-Nungua.. non-stop!) and most importantly collects the money.
These charismatic mates are usually not the tidiest looking people; fluffy caps, ragged tee's and of course the beautiful combination of tight socks and slippers! I guess this messy style has something to do with the street code as I've learned that many mates actually make quite good money out of the hustle!
And if a mate happens to sell his own seat to you, you'll get a breathtaking and aromatic experience under his armpit as he hangs outside the doorway and sits on your lap in turns. Oh my.
You can always have a chat with the mates.They take care of everyone in the car; these muscular helpers carry fruit baskets, babies and grannies in to the trotro and out. Any wrangling among passengers? Solved. Stuck windows, shaky seat rows or light strips hanging from the roof? Fixed.
Quite cool people, right!?
Mates know how to jump down from moving trotros and catch them again when the driver decides to get going while his mate is in the middle of coaxing new people to join. Let me also mention that these interesting buddies are very good at forgetting to give the change to the passengers; another thing that always creates a small inner conflict in me... should I fill the expectations as an obroni and dash a bit extra or should I be that crazy obroni traveling by trotro and fighting over her 40 pesowas, because she doesn't want to get bullshitted or fulfill the common obroni-expectations?
But truly, trotros - even in all their roughness - are a super-nice way of traveling.
With love to Ghana,