Surviving the Sun in Accra

My Adventures Living & Working Abroad in Ghana

Part A: Transit – In True Ghanaian Fashion

It has been nearly a week since my last post, and now, sitting and reflecting on the week’s happenings, I realize that I couldn’t be farther away from home right now. This week was filled with a chaotic transportation system, a political riot & arrest, and a LOT of just sitting around and waiting. I think it would be best to divide this post into Part A and B to truly do the week justice. So here is Part A, based on transportation.


The week started off on Monday as Vincent (the brother of our advisor, and landlord of our flat) had kindly offered to take Collin and Theresa and I around on the ‘tro-tros’ to meet up with our employers and get acquainted with the upside-down transit system that is present in Accra.


**Tro-Tros: by nature, they are fundamentally run-down 15-23 passenger vans which give each passenger roughly 2 cubic feet of space to fit into (on most of my rides, I have not been able to square my shoulders up to the back rest because there isn’t even enough space to sit shoulder to shoulder).

  The absence of air-conditioning makes for an exceptionally hot, humid and windy ride as all of the windows are left open.

  There are two workers: the driver and the ‘mate’ (who hangs from the window of the sliding door shouting the destination to civilians on the street and collecting fares from passengers).

  My favourite tro-tros are the ones where the door falls off and has to be held on by the mate (which is more common than you might think).


Luckily for us, Vincent took us on the tro-tros a few days in a row, because it quickly became apparent that in Ghana, there is a high level of unspoken communication that enables the residence to function efficiently with very little verbal discussion. For a foreigner however, hand signals and head tilts don’t really paint a clear picture on where the tro-tro your about to get into is headed.


What we have learned so far is that there are three main hand signals used in our area:

a)      Rapidly pointing downward with your index finger: going to Madina Market

b)      Rapidly pointing forward with your index finger: going to Accra/Tema Station

c)      Pointing down with your index finger, while making a circlular motion: going to Circle Station


At first explanation, this appears relatively clear and easy enough… but in reality, these hand-gestures are often quite sloppy and nearly impossible to understand as one motion merges into another and then back again. When your standing at a junction between two dirt roads in the heat of the day, and traffic is rapidly moving past you, it gets more than a little stressful flagging down the right tro-tro and figuring out which way they are headed.


For the last two days, we have all headed our separate directions and have made it to and from work without getting lost… well at least not massively lost haha. We always end up finding our way home (knock on wood), so hopefully practice makes perfect and we’ll have it all figured out soon enough.


Being used to a bus system and the C-Train, it is hard to accept that there is not scheduled times, particular routes or regularity in the system at all. Taking transit here involves a blind belief that eventually the tro-tro you get on will actually stop at your station, regardless of how much time or what route it takes to get there. Work starts at 8:30am for me, so I typically leave the house by 6:45 which makes for a very long day when 3½ hours of everyday is committed to tro-tro rides. It is always dusk by the time I get home from work and nightfall takes place at 6pm.


With this being said, I will now officially state that I will NEVER complain about Calgary’s often tardy buses and break-downs on the C-Train tracks every again. No one understands a real commute better than the citizens of Ghana, crammed into a sauna-box of a van for two hours as you are constantly bombarded through the windows to buy things from sales people in the street (See the ‘Top 10 List’ posted under the ‘Pages’ section).


Although I might sound extremely pessimistic about this system, and frustrated about never knowing if I will be at work 30 minutes early, or an hour late… I think a part of me will miss the tro-tros when I leave. The passengers are always kind and go out of their way to be helpful, even if they don’t know what you want. Plus, I’m already getting used to being able to buy anything I want on my way home through the window… need more TP? No problem. Haha, only in Ghana J



*Quick Fact: It costs me roughly 1 CEDI + 60 Gp (Ghana pesewas), equivalent to about $1.60 Canadian to get to and from work each day

1 Comment»

  Grandma wrote @

Love your descriptions of the tro tros, Kelsey. Quite a challenge! Love from both of us, Gram

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