ACCRA, ACCRA, ACCRA. Every morning, that’s what I heard during my commute to work. The journey consisted of me leaving Aburi mountains and hoping a tro-tro to Accra. What I had the privilege to see during those commutes is what really help shape my experience in Ghana. Leaving the house at 5AM to get to work by 7:15 although I wasn’t due until 9AM was all calculated and necessary to truly get the Ghanaian experience. Don’t get me wrong, I complained about 60% of the time in multiple ways. However, persevering through this gave me a unique perspective on this wonderful place called Ghana.
Totally different from living in Washington DC, where I’m from. When you need to catch public transportation in Ghana, all you have to do is go to ANY curbside and flag down a 16+ passenger van. The trick is simple, slow the driver down enough to hear where that particular van was headed. For me there were two things I was looking for. Either one finger pointing down symbolizing that this truck was going to Madina, a city in before my designated area in Accra. Now if the finger was pointing to the sky, then that van was headed to ACCRA, my preferred destination. Knowing this was important. Everything changes once I board the tro-tro. Riding pass landmarks and countless food stands, I begin to pay attention to the smallest details to help time go by bracing for this, prayerfully, hour long commute to work. NEVER did I not see someone outside working. Every corner stood someone ready to sell you whatever you needed to get your day started. In the mountains at 5AM, it’s pitch black outside. Yet, every single day on my way to work, I notice hundreds of people up and ready to provide for their families. It’ll be raining and people would take shelter but the moment and I do mean the moment the rain stopped, everybody, EVERYBODY was back to the streets selling any and every product. That’s grit that’s determination, that was my introduction to Ghana.
The amount of patience you have to have to ride these tro-tro’s is unreal. Each time I told a Ghanaian that I was riding the tro-tro, they looked at me and asked me why? Tro-tro’s are stressful for Ghanaians so you can only imagine what it’s like for an African American to willingly endure such journey. Every moment on the tro-tro felt like a test of my patience. There’s one experience in particular that’ll help me paint this picture for you. One day on my way to work, my coworker who lived nearby met me at the house and we embarked on this expedition to work. We left a little after 5:30 AM still hopeful that we’ll get to Accra before 9 AM. It was unnecessarily hot on this particular morning. I WAS ‘HOT’ ‘HOT’. As we got closer to the University of Ghana, a few stops before we would get off, I look over at my coworker and he has sweat dripping from his face. My face cloth (which I now know is a necessity) was drenched. It was now 7AM and to makes matters worse, we were still on this tro-tro. I began to vent, as I often did, expressing my complete discomfort. I’m uncomfortable, felt like I was sitting in a sauna and irritated that this was all before work. He simply looks at me and says “yeah I hear you but so what? Here we are, relax, we’ll get there.” I immediately looked around the tro-tro and saw people drenched but smiling. Seemingly unfazed by this situation. As I sat attempting not stress, I grew to understand what he meant. RELAX.
Going home on the tro-tro was a different story. RUSH HOUR! One particular commute home I seemed to have been hyper observant. At some point in my journey home we began to stop more frequently as the tro-tro wasn’t full. Sitting in the 3rd row in the middle seat, legs crunched, I watched as every person got on this van. An AUNTY carrying her baby on her back with 5-6 heavy bags of food in her hands somehow flags down the tro-tro. As we get closer, I realize that she is also balancing something on her head. What happened next was probably one of the most beautiful things I witnessed in Ghana. The mother swung her wrap around and handed her baby to a young man on the bus reaching out to help. She then hands her bags to three people on the van. Mind you, we’re all just sitting on the bus waiting and watching this unfold. For most this seemed so normal and common but for me the act of kindness was so pure. After basically freeing herself of all she had, she slowly climbs the steps and boards the tro-tro. As soon as she sits, the young man gives the baby back to his mother and everybody else began to hand her back her belongings. How beautiful. We can’t live without community. That was my favorite lesson of this experience. We’re stronger together.
When visiting Ghana, step out of your comfort zone. There is where you’re really gain a true appreciation for Ghana. Having the opportunity to Truly immerse yourself in the culture and way of life will heighten your love Ghana
If you want to truly experience Ghana, ride the tro-tro once a day. Keep your eyes glued to what’s happening around you. Get inspired. Fall in love with Ghana!
By Emmanuel Ellard