Just get me home in one piece

It was nearly 9pm. The line hadn’t moved in a long while. The route home may be different, but it’s the same story in principle. Where crowds are ready to claw each other’s eyes out in the mornings, the Kwame Nkrumah Circle Station at dusk is more civil. In the stark darkness, all you see are faceless frustrated commuters in bending queues.

Luckily for me, three trotros came in quick succession. It was the front seat for me, just next to the driver. I held the exact fare, for it was my aim to be asleep no more than sixty seconds after paying my fare.

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Ajana one, Ajana two

Holidays mean waakye and walking around the house gloriously doing nothing. Unfortunately, not this time. I had to meet a friend at Rawlings Park, right in the heart of the chaotic Central Business District. I’ve never enjoyed the busyness of the marketplace, nor the bargaining that goes with trading. This meat to some is definitely my poison.

Within minutes, we got what we were looking for. I suspect I paid way too much for it, but this was no time for regret. I couldn’t wait to retreat from the engulfing crowd. It wasn’t too soon for me. We were headed to Tema Station, weaving our way through the traders, porters and shoppers of Accra. And the underground con artists too.

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Cargo

Not a cloud was in sight. On another day and in another country, this would’ve been described as a perfect day. The sky was gloriously clear, yet the masses sweating at Bridge had no time to admire the lovely blue expanse above us. Day had broken early. No wonder trotro after trotro was already full. Frustration was building as the sun bore down on us from on high in all its cruel majesty.

In the distance a Nissan Urvan approached. Desperate commuters readied themselves to charge at the gate. The trotro never stopped. Every seat was already occupied by plastic containers tied in large polythene bags. Those around me spat out stinging words in contempt. How dare they deem chamber pots and inferior plastic bowls more important than human bums?

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One good turn

Our driver was getting on my nerves, and we weren’t even out of East Legon yet. The morning scramble had already created two lanes at the Shiashie village. After a short very impatient wait, he swung the stiff steering wheel with all his might to the left, bounced us along a little bit and floored the accelerator towards the oncoming traffic, effectively pioneering a third row.

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The devil you know …

The trotro driver was travelling a bit too fast on the dusty road in his attempt to beat the traffic. I’d never been on this route before. The bumps on the path all seemed worth it when I saw the morning traffic jam we were avoiding at Shiashie. I could do without the dust, but then, I’ve seen worse.

Welcome to the Nkwanta District in the Volta Region, where I did my National Service. Before late 2006, I never even knew it existed. By mid-2007, I was familiar with every stop from Hohoe to Kpassa, the latter being very close to the Northern Region. Ghana had called.

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Roaming in Rwanda

Today, I’m ultra-excited to have Amma Bonsu as my guest commuter! She’s the host of The Ammazing Series, and she’s traveled around Africa to profile stories that highlight the beauty and resilience of Africa. That’s how I met her, when she wrote about jetting off from her Toronto base with her baggage and equipment and headed off to Africa to explore.

This is an excerpt from her book-in-progress, “An Immigrant’s Dilemma”. Indeed, it’s a story from an international trotro patron. Enjoy.

Asomasi

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To get to the village of Ntamara I had to stand in a long line at Bugesra bus depot. About 40 of us managed to cram ourselves into a yellow mini-van. I tell you, if you are ever in need of entertainment or irritation, you need to find a seat in a local African bus.

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Please don’t scratch

I’ve always maintained that the gains are minimal when trying to dodge the traffic of the main road. If I were driving, I’d probably just stick it out along Mensvic Hotel rather than take the back road at L’Ecole Francaise. Not trotro drivers. Sitting in slow-moving traffic on a tarred road turns their bellies. Every day we dash off towards the dusty paths leading into the Shiashie village. There, it can be likened only to Samurai warfare, where we all rush furiously at each other, and out of the smoke and dust survivors emerge victorious. Those who manage to ruin the paint jobs on their cars either choose to cut their losses or go down the gutter route. Too many times, it’s been the latter.

Take this morning last week for instance, when we were all rubbing shoulders in a bid to get off the bumpy road and join the jam ahead. Only the brave ventured. I took a look out of the window to my right, wondering what possessed this driver to bring his brand new Hyundai Sonata into such a high-risk environment. Perhaps the car wasn’t his, or he frankly couldn’t care less.

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Troto on my birthday? No way!

Less than halfway through the journey, I was laughing at every story that poured of this guy’s mouth. It was the way he told them that made them so hilarious. His voice reminded me of Agya Koo’s, though he looked nothing like the comedian. He had the most honest look on his face as he spoke with disarming sarcasm. Talk about the tonic for a good day.

6th October happened to be my birthday, and it would take nothing short of a taxi strike to get me into a trotro. I wouldn’t risk turning up at work on my big day with a rip right down the length of my trousers. Any chance of a change of mind quickly evaporated when I stepped out of the gate thirty minutes later than I usually do. And to confirm that my decision was heaven-backed, an empty taxi turned the corner at just that moment.

The unending conversation started when he scoffed at the news report that it was National Teachers’ Day. “Tweaa,” he spat out. “As school-children in the village, when you were going to the public toilet and you even saw your teacher there, you’d take your business into the bush. You’d have too much respect for your teacher!” Before he could let me form a mental picture of a scared kid holding his bum in desperation while scurrying away, he went on. “Today, students and teachers are drinking akpeteshie together.” I could just see a science teacher downing tot after tot with the cupboard boy while laughing in a drunken stupor.

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I don’t wear white trousers

For me, leg room is a luxury in any trotro.

One Sunday, having been left behind, I had to trek to church by myself. I was in the first row – alone. Soon, I was lost in my daydreams. It wasn’t until we got to Silver Cup that I looked down and giggled. My legs were actually crossed! When was I last able to do that in a trotro? What a rare privilege.

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E dey be … keke

Welcome Tosin Osunlaja, our guest commuter for today. I call her a woman of many costumes. From satin and dancing shoes during her days as a choreography director at KNUST, she went on to suits and stilettos in a bank for her National Service, and exchanged them for overalls and boots as a field engineer at Baker Hughes. She knows the ins and outs of Port Harcourt, and brings us a riveting tale of a commuter’s life in Nigeria. Share it, and comment as usual. Have fun.

Asomasi.

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If you happen to find yourself travelling along Okporo Road in Port Harcourt, you’d gracefully eliminate driving as an option and let your sixth sense decide on walking. Or taking a keke.

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