I just don't have the heart to do this. This is what I told myself the first few times that I left the office around 5:30 p.m. and tried to use the cheap local transport. I decided that the bruising business of elbowing and pushing my fellow Ghanaians, while jockeying for seats on the rickety mini-buses popularly known as "trotro", was an activity that I wasn't particularly keen on. It certainly wasn't my ideal way of kicking (no pun intended) off what was supposed to be the relaxing part of my day. I figured I had to find a way of returning home without shelling out too many precious Ghana Cedis (the re-denominated Ghanaian currency that currently exchanges approximately 1:1 with the American dollar due to the 'dextrous' division of the old currency by a factor of ten thousand--magic wand economics fixes, I suppose).
After spending a number of years studying and working in the US, I am now home to find out what this place has to offer...or in JFK-sanctioned terms, "what I can do for my country". I work in the Airport area of Accra, and anyone familiar with rush-hour traffic (moving from the Ridge Circle towards the Tetteh-Quashie area and beyond) in that part of the city can empathise. I questioned the worth of suffering aches and pains to get onto a trotro only to spend the next hour inhaling the noxious products of neglected and unenforced automobile emission laws and regulations. Not good. I began to consider other options. I could simply stay at work till about 8 p.m. when things cooled down, or I could simply walk as far as possible to where I wouldn't have to struggle for a bus. Well, both options had their strong points. Staying after work gave me the official license to do things that I sneakily did during office hours: catch up with friends online (Facebook, Gmail chat, etc.), read scientific literature (I plan to return to academia), watch sports news and videos, or even play my latest movie download. (Hey, I still complete my assignments on time. Don't we all?) The walking option allows me a 20-minute exercise, but the perspiration (because I walk too damn fast) that comes with it is a little dampener to this option. However, the prospect of shopping at the 'famous' Accra Mall before going home compensates for this dismissible discomfort.
The journey to work in the morning is not great either. But I can get a free ride right from my house, although this luxury comes at the expense of getting ready by 6:30 a.m. On days that I feel like “pre-gaming” before work, I choose to pass the ride offer. Pre-gaming is important, man. I get a good, healthy, unhurried breakfast; watch half an hour of world news from BBC and Al Jazeera; catch up on local news on Ghanaian morning shows; and once in a long time, get to do some shabby skipping exercises. If I am in a self-gratifying mood, I even sneak in a game or two of my FIFA game (just to see Barcelona beat Real Madrid all over again). And I still manage to get myself to the office by 8:45 a.m. Well, most times :)
Trotro used to very cheap. I understand the name is borrowed from a low-value pre-colonial Ghana (or Gold Coast, for you history honchos) coin called "tro". Thanks to expensive fuel prices, trotro is a misnomer these days, but it's far cheaper than the other transport alternatives. The trotro experience itself is not bad once you are actually inside the vehicle. People are actually nice to each other: they help children alight from the vehicles, people converse about things ranging from politics to stubborn kids at home. I am not particularly fond of the loud cell phone users. These fellows talk so loudly you'd think they were performing a Broadway monologue under poor sound equipment. I am also not a fan of the driver’s mate (the chap that collects the fare) either, because those guys somehow often assume I don’t know the exact price and try to rip me off by a few pesewas. They assume(d) wrong. I think I'll devote talking about these interesting trotro characters to a different blog entry.
I don't mind trotro at all. I have the option to drive to work, but I choose not to. I think gas is too expensive, and I am too spending-conscious to give cab drivers a minimum of twelve dollars a day (I think I am taking that Nordhaus econ class back at Yale too seriously).The long traffic is not a stimulant either. Finally, the reckless driving on the streets here is the biggest turn-off for me. I say: Let the trotro driver shoulder all that driving responsibility and headaches. I only pray he gets me to my destinations in one piece.