Monday, May 04, 2009

A typical morning in Accra - a slice of life in Ghana

If you work on Wall Street, NY, NY., you probably take the subway to work. Every once in a while, something interesting might catch your attention. Same deal. If you work in Accra, but live in Ashale-Botwe, you probably take tro tro to work, as I did this morning. The only difference is you can have conversations in tro-tro. Conversations that can lift your mood and give you a spring in your step.

I left home this morning at about 7 pm. The clouds had gathered. Strong winds were blowing the red loose dust on Peace Be Street where I live into my eyes. Someone asked me if I wasn't going to take an umbrella. I chuckled. I don't own an umbrella :) I bought one for my mother but did not buy one for myself. It's not so strange. I mean I got to work in one piece, unsoaked. Who wants to carry an extra piece of luggage? Plus I was well prepared. Today I wore jeans, a shirt rolled at the sleeves and my red converse shoes to work. My hair is loced. No sweat. I could run if I needed to.

So when I got to my junction, I hopped onto the first tro-tro that was going to Madina. Charge? 25 pesewas. sweet! But by the time I got to Madina, it was raining heavily. Not the kind of drizzle people in London, Germany and the US call rain. I mean real tropical rain. The kind that can leave you soaked in under a minute. So i jumped off the bus and under the nearest shelter. I did not count but there could easily have been twenty other people huddled under the shelter...and talking. Someone said "ah nsuo yi tɔɔ ntem a, anka menko edwuma" (tr: *said regretfully* if it had rained earlier, i wouldn't have gone to work). We all laughed softly. Then two small kids decided to leave the shelter and brave the peltering rain. Maybe they needed to go so as not to be late for school. As they were leaving, one man said "oh nkɔlaa yi, future ministers paa o" (tr: these kids, who are future ministers). I thought that may well be true. Twenty years ago, I was that kid jumping over the brown puddles in Madina, and taking that tro-tro to school so I wouldn't be punished if I was late. Memories. Those kids may well become Ministers of State in the future. In some ways it is the beauty of life that you do not have to end where you begin...that there are ways to reach that "better life".

I smiled a little more broadly when two tro tros headed for Adenta came and one of the mates shouted:

adenta dentadentadenta down

and the second mate followed with:

adenta dadada down ...


I looked around me, trying to see if anyone else found this funny but it looks like i was the odd one amused by what is obviously a normal part of life on the streets of Accra.

Soon, a tro-tro came and i boarded it. Before I had sat down, one chubby woman also got on and wriggled her way past me onto the seat I had aimed for. She is lucky that she was older than me or I would have confronted her for an explanation on why she'd decided that only my seat would do for her. But she was older, and my Ghanaian upbringing made me keep mum. But surprised at how rudely she had taken what should have been my seat, I decided to shame her by taking the high road- I opted to go sit on the row behind instead of squeezing in by her side. She did not seem moved. It was a good thing I was wearing trousers, because I then had to jump over some seats before I could sit. Ah in the tro-tro.

The trotro lumbered on. I didn't notice when all the people got off, but by the time we got to Gulf House, close to Tetteh Quarshie Circle, there were only 4 of us in the car: The driver, the mate, one guy at the back and yours truly. The radio was tuned to Peace, Adom, or some other twi-speaking radio station. The news for the day was: Abranteɛ bia, ose wiase nyɛ ne dɛ biom. ɔbra eetwa ne mbaa nti ɔde ahoma asɛn ne kɔn (tr: a young man who no longer finds joy in life has hung himself). That's when the conversation began.

The guy at the back: na akɔlaa so deɛ ɔhaw ben a na wo wɔ a nti a wasɛn wo ho?
(tr: what problems could a child of 17 possibly have that would prompt him to hang himself?)

driver: ebi a, ɔakɔ nyem obaa bi na osuro ne a nawofo bɛyɛ no.
(tr: maybe he's impregnated a girl and is afraid of what his parents would do to him)

Mate: Ho, na sɛ wo nyem ɔbaa, wo ayɛ lucky. Wo nim esikafoɔ a ɔmo pɛ ba awo a, ɔmo nya? Anaa sister...?
(ho, he should count himself lucky if he has succeeded in impregnating a girl. Do you know how many rich people are trying to have children without success?)

Me: saa... ɛnyɛ nipa na obɛ wo?
(you're right. afterall, isn't it a human being that he will have?)

That was the first of many more commentaries and chats we had about what was on radio. By the time I got to work, I was in a fine mood and ready to be a productive citizen. Ah, the wonderful Ghanaian life!


  1. Love it! I can see how trotro would provide writers with plenty of vignettes

  2. haha! nostalgic! I've been meaning to let you know that I admire your descriptive skills! You're such a good girl for letting that lady take that seat. You know me and my slightly insolent little self would have passed some kind of snide comment to make sure "chubby lady" heard me!especially since she did not acknowledge your very christian huh?(bows head in shame :~)

  3. Esi,Tro-tro is my mode of transportation anytime i am in the Homeland just love the small talk on these modes of transportation love it...These mates most of the time have these very interesting stories or conversations that goes on between the master it is soo the same time i love trotros cos they are cheaper,i refuse to get burned by these taxi's they can tell you are johnny just i can have my perius in ghana and my household we shall take tro-tros...hehehehe....peace y'all...

  4. I love this post! Very colorful, and I could completely relive the situation... the last time I huddled under a rain shelter was on 31.12.07 at Circle, but I was too annoyed to take in what my fellow huddlers were talking about! There should also have been some hustlers trying to sell umbrellas on the spot for unheard-of prices... instant inflation! In the West, iPods have done a lot to stifle spontaneous public conversations like this one; a pity, really.

  5. What you describe here Esi, is def hands down one of the things I love most about Ghana.. "anaa sister...?" :)

  6. Nice Piece! One of the things I love(d) about Ghana is the easy way people talk to each other and how easy it is to laugh. I lived in Armenia later, where first I didn't speak/understand the language, but also people do not talk easily in public to people they don't know. It wasn't easy to adjust!

  7. Cool, interesting post that is an apt description of early morning trotro ride in Accra. Did you say you left home at 7:00 pm? lol.

  8. Ah, one of these wonderful, wonderful posts for us Twi-students! Will go back and take notes, normally I would only get a word or two out of each sentence,(nsuo, edwuma, saa, obaa, nipa etc) thanks for aiding me with full translation of spoken Twi!

    Also, heard about your new job, congrats!

  9. What's the new job Esi? You will have to do a whole post on it:)

    Nana Darkoa

  10. Just to be nosy - what new job? :D

  11. @all.Oh you guys want to know about my job(s)? Sure, i'll tell you. But I have a small request: you have to wait about 3 months for it. That's because I've planned to do a thorough review of my year-long stay in Ghana in which i'll talk about personal successes, failures, learnings,job (s), everything.uncut. I got to Ghana on August 1, 2008 so it would be most appropriate to do this review on August 1, 2009. So just continue watching this space. Just 86 days more...

    @Nana, i have a love-hate relationship with tro-tro. In general i like it as it gets me closer to the "real life" but then there are the funny smells and scratches, and bone-shaking which...well, who can love that? But hey, I can't write about a life i have not lived, so this is just the type of thing i need.

    @hehe, Max. Aww, thanks! When i grow up, i want to write books like leo tolstoy writes them: it reads like real life:) will you buy one if i write a special note in it just for u? in say 5 years from now? But for real if it had been you in that trotro, I don't think you'd have had the gumption...with all those older people looking on, they'd have given it to you se wo mbu adie.

    @yeah well, patrick, tro tro is def the way to's also good for our planet. all we need to do is get better non-tetanus causing buses on the roads, build better roads to minimize traffic, and then change the face of trotro as the poor man's ride to a convenient, cheaper means of transportation. Are you sure u'll be bold to tell ur wife to be that u and ur fam will take trotro for all ur days? err, did you check out the comments on the rich versus handsome blog entry? maybe u wont find a wife if u don't change ur tune o.

    @AB, well, there are days when nothing interesting happens. but somehow i'm always without a book or an ipod at such times when i need it most.

    @Debbie...true dat, sista, true dat.

    @Miss Footloose. Armenia?! I never heard of a Ghanaian who went to Armenia. hehehe...just tripping:) where r u now? When r u visiting us.

    @Gameli, i shd sign you up to be my proofreader. what's ur hourly rate?

    @Kajsa, musta been Nana Kofi who told you abt working with me eh? or you asked about why i'm the only one who got a photo shoot and he defended himself by saying that was actually us working. hehe. But now u have everyone asking about a job:)

    @Anonymous and Nana, check back here on August 1st for answer:)

  12. Esi, this story of yours reminds me of my primary school days.The weather was the determining factor. A few clouds up high in the sky was enough to cancel a whole day's class.

    I guess today it's with work and not class. The rains have come and it will surely be a determinant .

    Remember what the guy said?
    ah nsuo yi tɔɔ ntem a, anka menko edwuma. I am pretty sure he works for the public sector!!!!!!!

  13. Really nice piece, Esi. While the trotro may be a cheaper option for many travelers in Accra, you've shown that it represents more than just another means of transport. For a poor Legon student, the trotro was an absolute cedi saver and while I enjoyed taking it most times I don’t miss it.

    Some of the reasons can be found in your piece; (1) the chubby women who take up all the space and will never apologize or even recognize your generosity when you compromise by squeezing in. Good thing you shamed her, lol. There’s one easy solution to this: the trotro industry in Ghana should follow what Delta airlines is doing, that is, give them their leeway but charge them for the space of two.

    (2) I do agree that some of the mates are nice guys-even pitiful sometimes-but many others are just utterly rude (especially during rush hour when buses are hard to come by). I still can’t understand why they always like to swindle unsuspecting passengers by charging a little bit above the accepted rates. The annoying thing is that when you happen to complain some passengers will have the nerve to say something like: “na krakye paa na wore y3 saa yi” meaning gentlemen aren’t supposed to complain when cheated? How ridiculous. I just can’t understand why many Ghanaians are so timid and can’t stand up for what they know is right.
    Perhaps this is symptomatic of a larger problem which is that we always settle for mediocrity. Anyways, not to belabor the point, I’ll end my rant here.

  14. I make it a point to pick trotros on fridays (as much as possible), in the african wear and all you kinda feel easy. Best part of it all is the entertainment portion. I have loads of stories to tell on my trotro adventures.Lots of fights, chicks and more.
    Ei Esi wat job-;))).. just kidding,

  15. If you are feeling bored pick a trotro from Madina to Accra. Definitely you will enjoy your day.

  16. You just made me miss home. Its crazy how the littlest details can bring about the fondest memories. I miss the sound of the rain pelleting the aluminum roofing sheets. Heavenly.

  17. Esi - that was a wonderful account that so charmingly captured the flavor of travel around Accra.

    I wonder if you would like to receive a copy of my debut novel, WIFE OF THE GODS, which is set in Ghana and was released by Random House on 14 July, 2009. Random House would be happy to send you a free review copy, and you can then post your review on your blog.

    For more information about the novel, see my website by clicking on my name link. We are making every effort to get the novel distributed in Ghana.

    All best

    Kwei Quartey

  18. This brings back memories. I remember once when visiting Ghana, I was about to hire a taxi(dropping) from Accra to Tema. My daughter (who I had sent to Aburi girls, and who wanted to demonstrate she was now a full fledged Ghanaian) said she knew how to save me some money. So she took me to circle where we took a Tema bound trotro. What a nightmare! My feet were suspended, my back bent forward in some unnatural manner the whole way - and the seats were haaarrd! I saved a lot of money, but I arrived at my destination legless. The circulation just ceased. I couldn't face a similar return journey so I took 'dropping' back to Accra. Still I have to agree that it's an affordable way to get around.