I have been thinking for a while now about the next post I would write in this blog. I had in mind a very serious and philosophical post about having the experience of being here in Ghana and how this country is such a dichotomy; contradictions everywhere. I have it half written in my head because I really did have an amazing weekend and wanted to share it……..and then today happened…and I think this experience is so much more interesting.
Monday’s are the day I make the trek into Madina to volunteer at an organization that sells handmade quilts, bags and clothing and uses the profits to help pay school fees, supplies and whatnot for the children of the community who otherwise would be unable to attend school. Anyway, I have just begun to feel confident about making this journey on my own which marks a bit of an accomplishment for me because I am directionally challenged and as such am actually fairly terrified of traveling in big cities alone (which Accra is). Especially if I am unsure of exactly where I am headed (which today I was). But there is nothing like facing a fear/phobia down and conquering it.
A side note here about the public transportation here called trotros. A trotro is essentially a stripped-down minivan, usually packed with 12-15 people. Most of the ones I have been on are fairly old and seem a bit mechanically edgy but hey…what the heck, it is how the locals get around, so why not? Aside from the driver, there is a “mate” who hangs out the side of the van shouting out its destination to attract more riders; for example, if you are headed into downtown Accra he will shout something that sounds a lot like Kra kra kra kra kra! The mates I have run across speak a little bit of English but not much, so it is good to know the lingo here.
I got on the first trotro this morning without incident and attempted to transfer to a second one headed in the direction I needed to go. I looked at the mate and asked “Arappa Jane?”, (the name of my stop). He nodded yes and said, “bra bra”! Which means come, come!, so I hopped on. It did not take me long to realize that the route we were taking did not look familiar to me. After I was quite certain I was lost I decided that I was not going to panic and to just go with the flow and see where this little adventure was going to take me while I formulated a plan of action. At this point the mate looked at me and asked me something in Twi (I really need to be studying my Twi more here) and I guessed he was asking me where I wanted to get off and told him again, “Arappa Jane”. He stared at me blankly for a moment and he and the driver started having a rapid conversation in Twi in which I strongly suspected that I was the subject of. The mate looked back at me and I could tell by the look on his face that I was not where I was supposed to be, at which point another passenger looked at me over his shoulder and told me I had missed my stop some time ago and that if I continued on, the trotro would eventually turn around and drop me where I needed to go. It was here that the mate and driver decided that I needed to ride in the front seat, I am assuming because I needed a bit of ‘extra’ help, and off we went (the upswing of all of this is that now I know how to get to Botwe which is where we turned around). I thought this would be an interesting little diddy to tell my hubby in my daily email/text/video chat and that would be it. But alas my day was not yet done.
After my work was finished for the day I walked the seven or so blocks to the nearest junction and got on another trotro headed to the market where my next junction was located, going the correct direction this time (Horay for small victories!). We were about half way to where I was supposed to switch trotros when the driver just stopped and the mate looked at me and said “last stop”…okay. So I got out and proceeded to walk to the next junction. It was very hot today and I was soon soaked through with sweat but again in the spirit of making the most of it, decided to absorb the sights and sounds and just enjoy the little jaunt through the popular and very crowded market. I also have a bit of thing about crowds so again a good opportunity for some fear conquering here.
The driving here is a bit insane and we were told that cars here do NOT stop for pedestrians so don’t think crosswalks are safe, so by the time I got to the junction and I managed to cross the 4-lane highway without being struck by a vehicle I felt like I had all the fear conquering I could take in one day and was ready to melt into a puddle. Really I just wanted to get back to my room and turn the fan on high and wallow in the breeze. I hopped on the trotro and we waited (no air conditioning mind you) jam packed into the van. We continued to wait in the hot van like roasting chickens for about 20 minutes for the vehicle blocking us in to move on and then thankfully we were off.
Sitting in the van next to me was an older gentleman, holding his briefcase on his lap. I am guessing he was somewhere in his 70’s. He looked at me and smiled and asked me where I was headed. I thought he was sweet and so I told him I was headed to the university. He asked how I liked Ghana and where I was from. He seemed grandfatherly so when he asked my name and told me his I thought at least I can share a bit of kindness with someone on this unbearably hot and oven like vehicle.
At this point he pulled out a small note book and started flipping through the pages and began writing on the first blank page he came to. He ripped out the page and handed it to me and smiled and told me he was giving me his phone number. I have heard other students talk about how some locals really like to exchange numbers and social media info with foreign students so I did not think much of it. I just smiled back, accepted his number so as not to be rude, and thought to myself it was a cultural thing here. However, as we journeyed down the road to the junction where I was to about to depart he asked me if I lived near here. Finally, my spidey senses started to kick in (what took me so long, right?) and I uncomfortably tried to answer without answering while trying in vain to skooch a bit further away. As we approached my stop he leaned in quite close to me and said in a very conspiratorial manner “When you call me, make sure it is in the evening….” Wink, wink. I am assuming here that during the day my calling would be awkward for him….good to know. This brings a whole new meaning to a hot trotro ride. I suppose it is all in the eyes of the beholder.
At least today was an interesting day. I remind myself that one day this will all be quite amusing to me. Who am I kidding, it already is.