Wanderer Wednesday #3: The Trotro

What is a Trotro? A Tro-Tro is the local name for the often crowded but cheap mini-bus transportation used in Ghana. Your first introduction to a Tro-Tro will probably be when you are walking the streets of Accra and hear a hissing sound and see a mini-bus careening towards the side of the road with a young man hanging out the door yelling something that will probably be un-recognizable and doing some kind of motion with his hand. Then the door is flung open and out pops a few bodies and a few more are crammed in to take their place. Trotro comes from the local Ga word “Tro” which means three pence. This represents the price paid for this transport back when Ghana was a colony of England and using pence and pound as currencies. Today they are still a very affordable form of transportation and one that is used by most Ghanaians to get around the city.

They are primarily used for short trips around urban areas but they can also be used to travel outside of the city and between other destinations. They are still usually used for smaller jumps, to go longer distances multiple trotros need to be used the majority of the time. It is not the most comfortable form of transportation but it is very affordable and a great way to have a very Ghanaian experience. People are often very interested to talk to you on tro-tros and everyone is usually in a very light and joking mood. The heat and amount of people crammed into these things can make longer trips uncomfortable, but there is nothing like it; often with goats on the roof and chickens in the back. Because of the amount of people, cargo, bad roads and aggressive drivers, tro-tro accidents are not uncommon, just a word of warning.

If you are traveling in Ghana you should probably take a tro-tro at least once for the experience even if you can afford a cab or your own car and driver. The system can be quite confusing to figure out though because it is a purely un-regulated, un-planned, and seemingly un-organized system. There is a method to the madness though. When the guy is hanging out the door and yelling and doing a hand motion he is indicating the destination of that particular tro. The guy hanging out the door is called the mate, he works with the driver to collect passengers and money. The destinations of trotros are called trotro stations and are usually located in markets or other notable landmarks in cities and villages. In Accra there are some notable stations that you will be hear being called out over and over again like, “circle, circle, circle,” indicating Kwame Nkrumah circle in the center of Accra, this will be combined with the hand in the air and the index finger tracing circles in the air. Or “Macola, Macola, Macola,” indicating the destination is Macola Market, or “Teshie, Teshie, Teshie,” indicating Teshie Nunga, “Medina, Medina, Medina” indicating Medina and so on.

If it is your first time taking the trotro, feel free to ask a Ghanaian for help on which one to take, they are usually more than happy to help visitors out, and there is a chance they will be taking the same Tro and will help you find the next one. You can always ask a driver or mate also. If you are just going between stations in Accra you will not have to wait after loading, just take the next available seat after you get on. Depending on the time of the day though you may have to wait in a line of people for your turn to board the Trotros as they pull up. After the trotro is underway the mate will have the passengers pay one by one moving from front to back. It is best to have small coins or currency since the price is so small it makes it easier for the mate to get you change. You will pass your coins to the person in front of you or beside you who will pass it onto the mate. When the mate has collected enough coins he will give you your change if you need it. If you are taking a trotro out of the city or for longer distances there will often be a number of them parked at the area where they take off. If it is a busy route it will take no time before the Trotro fills with people, then it will be on its way. They usually do not leave for these trips until the whole car is filled because they want to collect as much fare as possible. If it is a less busy trip it can sometimes take up to an hour for the tro-tro to fill, in this instance you will have to just wait patiently and remember you are on Ghana time.

Don’t be afraid to try the tro-tro and remember you can always ask for help. Ghanaians really appreciate when visitors try to do things like them and get a feel for their life, like taking the Trotro, or speaking Twi, or eating fu-fu. They usually get a big kick out of it, “eyy obruni is taking the tro-tro.”

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