To live in Accra one has to get used to the local transportation. True there are Taxi cabs and even Uber but if one commutes, as I do twice a week through Madina Market, then cost wise the public transportation, at about a tenth of the price, is really the only way to go. As such, I take the local public transit, the trotro, to and from my work on the outskirts of Madina.
Being a small-town girl, and not a big fan of crowds or lack of personal space this has been an adjustment for me. I have tackled more than a few personal phobias navigating my way to my work this way. This probably says more about some of my neurosis than I realize. Last week however my level of comfort with the trotro system was challenged (monumental understatement here).
Let me explain how the trotro system works. Trotro’s are essentially stripped-down vans which hold between 12-20 people. The seats are sometimes wobbly. Occasionally there is no rearview mirror and frequently there are wires hanging from the roof. In my experience. they are in varying states of safety and decline but it is how the locals travel so…why not? I know I have explained before but each trotro has a driver and a mate. The mate’s job is to attract riders and collect money. There is stiff competition amongst the mates to attract riders to their van and as such selecting a trotro can be a somewhat intense experience. Last week I had quite the wild ride, well actually two, let me explain.
It all started simply enough. I was traveling back to the university from work through the market. Traveling this way has been a challenge for me because it is an assault on the senses and I am evidently a bit sensory sensitive. It generally is quite hot, noisy and there is lots of shouting going on. When I cross the street to choose one of at least a dozen trotro vans heading in the direction that I need to go, I am bombarded with mates asking me where I want to go and they are pulling on my arms to get me into their van. Occasionally there is a kind of tug of war going on to get me to choose their van, with mates tugging at my arms in two different directions. It is not at all uncommon for mates to get into fights if they think someone has unfairly ‘stolen’ one of their customers. Overall, though I travel without incident.
Last week, through a very crowded market and across a six-lane highway, I successfully navigated myself to one of the less intense and quieter trotro’s (thinking this was a safe choice). I was proud of myself for becoming so adept and comfortable with this. I waited in a long line of vans and sat patiently for the vehicle to fill up and head out. While I was waiting however there was a commotion at the trotro in front of us. Two mates had gotten into a fight over a customer. This was pretty common but the next thing I knew there were between 30 and 40 men on the sidewalk, right outside the trotro I was sitting on, in a full-scale riot. I have no idea where they all came from or why they were even there but they were punching and screaming and many had sticks and clubs and whatnot. They were banging bats against the fence, light poles and our van. Where the men and the weapons materialized from, I haven’t a clue. The mate from the trotro I was on evidently was caught up in the fray, so the driver proceeded to honk his horn continually to get the mates attention so we could pull away from the fighting, which only added to the chaos. I was terrified! Then as quickly as it had started, it was over, like smoke in the wind. Our mate hopped on board and off we went, all a bit rattled but unharmed.
The following Thursday, I had this incident fresh in my mind when choosing a trotro to take back to the university. Trying to be smarter this time, I chose one that was newer looking and fairly full so that we would not have to wait long to depart. I thought we would take off soon and without incident. I thought wrong. The mate and driver of the trotro I had selected evidently had some sort of rivalry going on with another trotro nearby. I watched as they interacted with each other and thought they were being a bit aggressive but brushed it off as normal competitiveness. About a minute after I got on there was shouting and our driver took off like a bat out of hell from the curb. Before I could process what was happening (shouting and waving at the other van) we were hurdling down the highway, weaving in and out of traffic, in a high-speed race with the other van, while the mate was laughing maniacally, which was even more unsettling than the driving. We were easily going 90 mph and the locals on the van were shouting at the driver in Twi, I assume they were being critical of his driving tactics (again I really need to practice my Twi), while I clung to the seat in front of me for dear life. The race finally ended though and I obviously I made it back, safe and sound, rattled again but okay….and with a story of one wild ride under my belt.
God only knows what adventures await me next week….Now I am going to have ACDC’s Highway to Hell running through my mind all night 😉