Trotro rights (and responsibilities)

Getting onto a trotro entitles passengers to certain interesting advantages everyone should be well aware of:

  • It’s your responsibility to pay the fare, and even though it’s your unmistakable right to receive change for fares, it is, in the words of a friend mate “absolutely a display of lack of common sense, firstly, and inconsiderate” when u expect the mate not to get upset with you after handing him a GHC20 note for a fare of 20 or 25 pesewas

Comment- in such cases when the mate cannot give you change, you may be spared the fare for that trip, but don’t mistake this as a blessing… it is far south of that.

  • It is your right to a seat in the bus, but in the case where, your average body size naturally covers more than one seat, it will be your responsibility to pay for the two out of concern for the comfort of other passengers. And in the case where you are the victim and you’re being squeezed in, there’s not much that can do, sorry.
  • It’s your right to complain when the fares are increased, but it’s your responsibility to shut up and pay the fare.

Comment – after all, 15 other people have already paid after that same flimsy argument.

  • It’s your right to sleep in the trotro, or maybe a privilege, but your responsibility comes in multiple folds; don’t fall asleep on your fellow passengers; you may drool on them or head-butt them, don’t miss your stop, and don’t get picked.

Comment – just stay awake, you might catch something interesting anyway

  • It’s your right to receive phone calls in the trotro, but it’s your responsibility to keep your voice down or talk briefly, oh and to maintain a trotro-acceptable ring tone. Izzy’s Wengeze is allowed though
  • It’s your right to admonish the mate to take a shower regularly, but it’s your responsibility to avoid aerial or proximate contact with the mate’s armpit.
  • It’s your right to be comfortable in the trotro, but it is your responsibility to endure the barely padded metal seats and sardine-like seating configurations.
  • It’s your right to join a trotro queue but it is your unfortunate responsibility to make sure you are not cut.

Comment – depending on the size or ‘hardness’ of who cuts you, advice yourself

  • There’s this interesting double standard kind of law passengers should be aware of; drivers are more likely to pick up a passenger at an illegal stop than drop you off at the same illegal stop, you can complain but sorry, who is driving?
  • It’s your right to be dressed very neatly or ‘freshly’ in a trotro, but it’s your responsibility to make sure your clothes don’t get dirtied or ever so often torn by the seat.
  • It’s your right to purchase products from trotro salespersons but it is realy at your own risk the side effects of the products.

Comment – none of the drugs really has an expiry date and apparently, all of them can cure impotence for some weird reason.

Trotro’s may be out of control, but these little things help you enjoy a good experience. This list is by no means exhaustive, what other ‘rights and responsibilities’ do you know of? Make your voice heard!!

Trotro Honour Code

Anyone, who has been around Ghana for some time, in no time, becomes fully aware of certain unspoken motor traffic laws. Pedestrians don’t really use zebra crossings, nor do drivers really respect the zebra crossings available. One of the most important however is, if you break any traffic laws and a policeman wants to ‘shake you’ just slip him some 5ghc and you’ll usually be expunged. Oh Africa my Africa, when will all this corruption and indiscipline end?” people usually ask. Recently, one trotro driver proved that “we can indeed be the change we want to see in the world”… Or is it really worth it?

So the last time in a Makola bound trotro, some very impatient passengers alighted at a ‘no bus stop’ zone. Within seconds, an angry, but crafty looking policeman appeared from nowhere, and signalled the trotro to pull up to the side of the road. Makola is probably one of the most crowded places in Accra; between trotros stopping and moving in uncontrolled patterns, to pedestrians literally navigating their way through the road and the annoying hawkers who decide to take over the pavements, It simply is chaotic. Ironically, the Makola police station is situated in the middle of all this mess.  Of late though, the police are making some efforts in trying to establish some kind of order. This includes occasional running after hawkers and rampant ‘arresting’ of law-breaking trotro drivers. So whose fault is it when a passenger insists on alighting at an illegal spot, especially when traffic is not moving?  Unfortunately, there is so much indiscipline; from drivers, to passengers, to hawkers and pedestrians. In most cases, ‘who to blame’ usually ends up conveniently in a political argument. So back to the story.

Our trotro pulled aside, and the usual routine started, the police asked for registration papers, insurance and what not. Usually when this happens, passengers have to get off the bus and the driver is left alone with his mate, to deal with the officer. But on this day especially, with traffic being so thick, combined with the scarcity of trotros, some of the passengers began pleading with the police officer to spare the driver. Then the expected came, “Massa, you know you broke the law, eh and now I will arrest you, hey mate let all the passengers get down,” the officer bellowed. The driver tried to explain, but the policeman was adamant – this is the usual conversation that takes place when the trotro drivers get ‘caught’, then this usually follows. “Okay, I can let you go today, but you have to give a small 10cedi donation so we can build more street lights,” the policeman added. Everyone in the bus knew what this really meant. “Oh, massa, I dey beg, my money all finish, I no fi contribute” the driver pleaded. “Heh, okay 5 cedis, quick one, for electric cable.”  Out of the blue the driver, garnered some confidence; “Look boss, I won’t pay you any bribe, the passengers broke the law, not me, so today dieeer, I no go pay!” Taken aback by this sudden confidence, the policeman tried to convince and yell at him, but at this point the passengers were into it. ‘Shame on you officer, today no bribe, yeren tua oo!!’ ‘Heh, papa driver, you should stand for president,’ ‘we’ll defend you in court koraa,’ ‘no bribe ooo’ people began yelling at the police officer while encouraging the driver not to pay the bribe.

Personally, I was among some of those yelling at the police officer, a chance like this is rare. The police officer at this point was in a mix, while the driver, injected with some vim from his passengers, was in yelling match with him. ‘These days, we won’t pay anything, take us to court, we will all go, and report you people!’ The passengers were literally cheering loudly now, attracting a small crowd of passers-by. Then an SUV pulled over in front of the bus, and a senior ranking officer walked over to see what was happening. At this point we were cheering, and taunting the abashed and fuming officer. “We’ll report you to your boss, you thief, you’ll see today, trotro aluta!!”someone yelled. “What’s the problem here?” the high ranking officer inquired. After the driver and policeman explained their sides of the story, the officer simply said. “Ah but you driver paa, you want to go to court, just give him some 5cedis bi, why are you hard like that?” We were all hushed by now, some in shock, others just clueless. “Do you want to go to court, can you even read, aah why? Look for something small for him, then you can go, you are a big fool, you are wasting your time, and look at all these passengers, you are wasting their time”

At this point the driver seemed completely repentant, and we the passengers, his followers, his fans, people who wanted this driver to run for president … well, let’s just say we had lost our energy. We all quieted down as the driver slipped a 5 cedi note to the now beaming officer. We rode in silence the rest of the way. As we got off, I wondered, whose fault is it? Who is more corrupt? We paying the bribes, or the ones collecting the bribes, or maybe we are all just hypocrites.?

Trotro Prescription

Aside trotros being lucrative business opportunities for bus owners, they provide priceless opportunities for salesmen to make some cash. These sales guys pitch and sell everything from anti-depressants, cold and cough syrup and capsules, books , cds, cotton buds, pretty much everything. I would say the most fascinating thing about their salesmanship will be their marketing techniques. In their loud and commanding crescendos, interesting fashion statements, wild gestures and sometimes downright funny terminologies, they provide passengers with a lot more than just a usual bus ride to their destinations.

One of my favourite experiences was with this elderly self-acclaimed medicine man who joined my Darkuman-bound trotro to sell his drug. He called it ‘Bishon.’ It was a bright yellow liquid he claimed was from India, packaged in a ‘precious’ tiny vial. After starting with a powerful and prophetic word of prayer, he stated, ‘I speak the truth cause i want to go to heaven – this liquid here can cure any open would, rash, pain or whatsoever ailment within five minutes, just for two cedis. I don’t lie’ At this point, some people were snickering while others were a bit thrown aback by this special liquid. In response to our reaction, he threw a challenge to the passengers in the bus. ‘if anyone has any dire condition; boil, rashes anything, try this and expect a cure within 5 minutes, otherwise throw my stuff out of the bus, and throw me out as well.’ Or even better, if anyone was willing, he would cut the person with a razor blood, so he could demonstrate the drug’s potency. At this point, it was getting interesting. Some passengers begun to question him while others simply enjoyed the debates going on. “Are you sure your drug is that good?” “How can it immediately stop bleeding and cure rashes?” questions were being thrown at him.

After a good amount of debate and cajoling, he declared, partly out of impatience, “I’m broke, people, am begging you all, can you just buy my stuff. I’m broke guys, help me out.” At this point, the bus at this point breaks out into laughter. But this guy’s serious. He continues, “someone should take my stuff on loan, you can pay back later…. I got on the bus expecting to make money for my wife, she’s stopped cooking for me, okay now 3 for two cedis” At this point some of the passengers are making fun of this obviously desperate old salesman. As he stood in the aisle trying to convince the well entertained passengers to by his yellow liquid, a passenger trying to get off accidentally stepped on his toe. At this point he erupted into a ball of rage, holding onto his victimised toe; then someone yelled, ‘apply your medicine on your toe’ to which he witfully answered, “Kwaasia, i’ll make a loss then, am only selling to passengers, not treating myself” More laughter this time, much to his chagrin and impatience. At this point, he was fuming and folks in the bus were just heckling him with questions about his drug. Then he took a last jab, “it can even cure impotence, it makes a man very very strong for the journey!!” Interestingly, the laughter died down and a feeble hush followed and people seemed a bit more interested. Interestingly he ended up making two sales. He had managed to convince people who had initially mocked him.

Time and again, salesmen in trotros encounter difficult situations like this one did. However, others do get luckier. For instance, salesmen who have anything that has to do with improving ones sexuality do make a good deal of money. One sales was able to convince that bus that impotence and infertility were caused by phlegms in the body, and the drug he was selling not only could help out with these, but could also fight against asthma, memory loss and diabetes – and he did have a good day. Acne, asthma, infertility, impotence and in some cases even AIDS come under a lot of pressure in the trotros, as to whether the drugs actually work, I’m not sure, but for me this is merely another unusual but common way the trotro provides much needed entertainment for me in my day.

Late Night Trotro

Like all things trotros do have their bad days, maybe even terrible days. The trotro could break down in the middle of the road (which happens almost way too frequently), or probably the more common case, painful waits for the bus. Some days traffic is simply inexplicably awful and of course lengthy queues build up at the station. Sometimes, you have the case of one trotro per hour or even worse on very bad days. This situation gets very trying on the passengers as the queues grow 10 times faster than the rate at which the buses arrive, so of course, you can expect a great deal of impatience and confusion. Once i happened to be in a queue that had been growing steadily since about 9 pm. As at 10, not a single bus had showed up, and the level of agitation was intense as more and more people joined the queue.

Finally a trotro slowly crept towards the queue, as if the bus was  exhausted from its numerous runs over the course of the day, and also dreading the predicament it was about to face. Before the driver could bring the car to a halt, the queue all of a sudden doubled in size and there was a mad rush for the door. Unfortunately, i was not able to make it into the bus, however, i did observe humans seemingly auditioning for the next wildebeest stampede. People were literally hanging onto the door, as others tried to force their way in. Of course, in such cases, deciding to take part in that confusion automatically requires that you be ready take part in a ridiculous exchange of punches, kicks, pulling and pushing and if you’re lucky and fast enough, and quite angry, you can even punish someone with your teeth.  So, there I was, standing aside observing and waiting to hopefully sneak in, from a safe distance. One guy’s literally hanging onto the door, trying to swing himself in, two ladies are in a hand-lock, one inside, trying to pull the other in. One lady with a baby strapped to her back seems to have lost her bag in the commotion, but is still pushing her way through. With the baby on her back, one would think she’d take it easy, but no, not tonight… It’s way past 10 pm and her baby probably needs its cradle. All of a sudden (actually, i was expecting this) a stray, but purposeful fist lands on someone’s face. For a very brief second, everyone seems to have frozen, and then just as suddenly as the blow came, two guys lunch out in a severe fist fight. There’s pushing, pulling, cursing and kicking. Two things happen here; the trotro’s door for this brief moment is quite open, second there’s a crowd of people growing around this scuffle instead. This is my opportunity to sneak into the trotro, but just as i make my move, everyone seems to have realised the main point of the struggle; getting into the trotro. Suddenly the brawl has ended, both guys have managed to get onto the trotro and are heatedly exchanging insults and the crowd that gathered has only added to the problems now.

I hear some lady screaming about her lost phone, she’s briefly and almost impatiently consoled. Obviously, it’s one of the prices you pay for fighting to get into the trotro. Soon the trotro’s full, am standing outside, i don’t really regret not getting in, after all, i’ve had to replace my glasses one too many times, plus the risks of fighting to get into the trotro almost completely outweighs the benefits. People lose phones and other valuables, get involved in/are victimized in needless brawls, lose their baby bags, get scraped, cut, kicked and needlessly abused. Anyhow, the trotro’s full now but the passengers are still fighting and squabbling over the seats and someone’s leg there, or someone being too fat or simply about nothing too relevant. The trotro wobbles away, and the crowd slowly diffuses into a queue once again, much shorter though this time around. I guess those of us left are the docile or maybe not too forceful ones. Well, it’s 10:30 now, and the wait might be long, and like our comic book ware wolves who do change into vicious beats towards midnight there’s really no guarantee that there won’t be a bigger struggle when the next bus trotro gets here. Let’s wait and see, maybe this time, the beast in me will strike.



You don’t really need a pillow

So if u get on a trotro really early in the morning or evening or fairly late at night, you may almost confuse the trotro for a sleeping chamber of some sort. People catch up on sleep in the mornings or just rest their heavy heads after a long day’s work at evening time. Of course, the sleeping does not come without drama. First, it starts with the variety of sleeping positions. Sitting in the seats alone are pretty uncomfortable, let alone attempting to catch up on sleep. Head rolling is one of the most popular techniques. Personally I am a victim of this head- rolling syndrome. Once in my sleepiness, my head rolled onto a fellow passengers face, hitting him squarely on the nose. I not only had to deal with this guy’s anger and diatribes but also, i was forced to alight off the bus a good and painful distance away from my stop.  There’s no point sitting next to an extra sized guy you just knocked out in the nose. I witnessed another incident where two passengers sitting next to each other were dozing off, their heads obviously bobbing and rolling in tune with the many pot holes on the road. Eventually, the inevitable occurred, their heads clashed quite violently, and in a case like this where neither knows whose fault it was, there’s usually an entertaining argument that ensues. But the chief of all was on one occasion, after running errand some place, I got onto a trotro. Traffic was pretty much moving at mud-consistency, plus i was pretty exhausted. Good news though, a very cute young lady settled in the seat next to mine. You never know where you may meet Mrs. Right, so i wasn’t going to let this golden opportunity slip by. So of course, i take out my fancy phone-I’ve got a lot of pretty raving reviews about my phone and of course, one of my friends had told me how nice phones could cast spells on some ladies. After 5 minutes, this lady didn’t seem the least bit impressed, especially when all i had done was played a couple of my cool ringtones and surfed the net for guess what, ‘how to impress a girl you meet’. She didn’t seem the least bit impressed, clearly not the materialistic kind. Especially after she received a call on her sleek iphone and overhead gently advising the caller about not being worldly and all that, i quietly slipped my now insulted nokia into my pocket. Darn it!! Wrong first move, so of course, plan b, i pulled out a newspaper from my backpack and opened to the ‘being a good citizen section’ it was dry to the bone, but hopefully, if she ain’t materialistic she better be some kinda patriotic book worm. But with the combination of the traffic and the boring article, sleep was only the obvious by- product. Not long after the first line, though, Ms.Cute lady was softly tapping my head…. Oh no, i had fallen asleep on her shoulder. ‘am so sorry, i hastily said.’ she politely smiled back. This wasn’t good, how can u impress a lady when you’re pretty much head- butting her. I had to control this sleep .. But she’s waking me up again after 10 minutes or so. This time, i am literally drooling on her skirt! And this time, it’s not just a tap, ‘excuse me, u’re drooling on my skirt.’ she said quite unammused. ‘am so so sorry.. As I wiped her skirt. Geez, at  this point, i was doing a pretty poor job at ‘ronnin this chic’ ‘ i’m very sorry about that, ‘ i repeated. ‘long day, huh?’ she chirped in. ‘yeah’. I was making conversation, yessss. This was my chance. Then her phone rings, so here i am thinking of ways to stay awake. Pretty long phone call, but am doing well, still awake, heavy eyelids though. I find some old gum in my back pack, it’ll keep me awake i think. Then ‘ouch!!!’ she’s almost yelling now, alerting other passengers and waking me up for good this time. I hit her squarely on the head. ‘What kind of gentleman are you? Is this where to doze off like that?’ as she rubbed her sore head in pain, her eyes flashing in anger. I’m so sorry, i repeated over and over. “You better be.” “Mate,bus stop”, was all i could say, out of embarrassment. Even though i as wide awake this time, there was no chance of me getting to know her better, neither could sit next to someone i had pretty much physical abused in my sleep. I apologized for the last time as i got off the bus. I had to spend the next hour waiting for the next bus. Missed opportunity all because of sleep. Maybe next time i meet her in the trotro, she’ll be the sleepy head, more than likely, she’ll only remain one of the characters in my trotro life.

In the beginning, there were trotros…

they’ve evolved from bone shakers to double deckers and then to converted cargo vans to mini vans, sedans , coaches and even these days, VIP upgrades are available. If you’re still scratching your head by now, well am talking about our very ubiquitous and somewhat infamous instruments of the public transportation system in Ghana, trotros. So most of the trotros are ex- cargo vehicles normally imported from the Western nations usually when they’re not deemed ‘road- worthy’ there. These ‘road-unworthy’ vehicles are more than stretched to their limits once they get to the developing nations – obviously shows how resourceful and thorough we are, right (do indulge my obvious bias) Most of these cars are brutally pushed to 10 or more years of slavery, till they fall apart, quite literally. They have rows of seats welded into them that pretty much pack passengers  so tightly, they would pass for sardined fish. That, to me is a good reason a word like ‘claustrophobia’ is so foreign to Ghanaians. The trotro system provides a very immediate opportunity for any visitor to learn about Ghanaians, it also doesn’t fail to supply much needed drama.  So let’s talk about the various parts of the trotro; we have the driver, who all the passengers of course, entrust their safety. There is almost no conversation or interaction from the driver’s end unless as happens not too often though, the driver appears a bit tipsy. In this case the passengers usually get off the bus after barraging curses on him. Then the way more interesting and usually comical bus conductor, who we call ‘mate’ in Ghana. They come in various shapes and sizes; almost literally,  from 12 year olds to 50 , 60 year old men and quite  few women. They are usually very instrumental in trotro drama. Their job is to collect the fares from passengers, who in turn contribute to the last piece of the trotro make up. The passengers are usually an eclectic juxtaposition of folks from all over ghana. From students to teachers, to traders and elderly folk, the trotro is almost like the kind of family you hate but cant live without. Taking a trotro offers one a myriad of unrepeatable experiences. Some will leave you reeling, others overjoyed and many of them leave you just eternally perplexed out of your mind.