FROM GHANA, FROM THE DESK OF OUR EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BERNARD SAUNDERS
© Bernard W. Saunders
March 10, 2014
I sit on my rented porch listening to the sound of the ocean accompanied by the tweeting of birds, and observing life in nature’s class room, birds doing battle at tree top level, as thousands of ants move through trenches they have plowed in my yard.
Beyond nature’s lessons learned through observation, almost daily another of what I’ve come to call Ghana stories, another learning experience reveals itself. I rarely know from moment to moment, what will happen. Here what you see on the surface is seldom what it appears to be. This then is another Ghana story.
The Central Region of Ghana where I am writing from has many forms of road transportation available to the public: nation-wide regulated bus systems; multilayer taxi and private cars for hire at regulated individual or group rates, that are usually negotiable; and vans that seat up to fifteen people. Ghana’s commerce, and thus its economy moves by road.
I have used most forms of surface transportation. Your level of comfort is usually dictated by what you pay. Air conditioned buses, vans and cars cost more. The less costly and least desirable in my view are the tro tros, which are the cheapest and apparently least regulated vans; thus being less safe than any of the other travel forms available the public. They are licensed and frequently stopped and inspected by the police on the road.
And in a nation that posts the number of people killed by “over speed” at the point of accident, which frequently involves tro tros, that should be reassuring but isn’t. License inspection is usually accompanied by the insertion of Ghana currency with the driver’s documents. It is considered part of the operating expenses. And chicken at high speeds seems to be a national pastime, as popular as soccer.
This is extremely dangerous because heavy trucks share these same roads, along with motorcycles that make their own rules of the road. Not to neglect, goats, cattle crossings, people, chickens, vendors and children. The heavy laden trucks are frequently seen broken down, rolled over on their sides or in a trench.
Tro tros make no scheduled stops. They will pick up and drop off anywhere along their route. They not only carry people but since just about everyone is in business, anything else produced in this region. As we border the ocean that frequently includes fish, and those who deal in fish. This is not specific to the tro tros, fish and anything else is transported in taxis, my refrigerator was delivered by taxi. The sick are also delivered to hospital by taxi, as ambulances carry the dead.
My most recent tro tro trip, a twenty minute ride to have lunch with two friends cost me one Ghana CD, the USA equivalent of fifty cents. I sat on the front seat squeezed between the driver and another man. The driver had to open the door from the outside by pulling on a rope. The tro tro will not leave its loading point until the conductor who collects the fares indicates to the driver that all seats are taken. Although there always seems to be room for one more with their loads.
Along the route the conductor, usually a young male, hangs out of a window, shouting the destination: in this case, Takaradi, Takaradi, Takaradi. You tell the conductor where you want to get down (get off) and he charges accordingly, or depending on your level of knowledge what he deems fit. There are frequent spats over fares and change. A friend of mine Zulu Spirit told me this Ghana story:
Zulu Spirit is a small framed African American senior citizen out of Denver Colorado. An intrepid tro tro rider she can carry two or three bags. She has been coming in and out of Ghana for the better part of a decade. She is conversant in the language of the region. She also creates the most yummy oatmeal cookies with all natural ingredients – mangoes, dates, nuts.
I was working on a press release for her and had ordered a batch of cookies. There was one last piece she wanted to include. We arranged to meet one morning, at the junction where the main road she was traveling on, meets the old road I live on. Zulu was passing through my area on her way to another destination. She would pick up the finalized press release on her return trip that afternoon.
Things went as planned. The conductor handed me the packet of cookies and the last piece for the press release. I in turn handed him the Ghana CD for the cookies, which he promptly gave to Zulu. These type of exchanges are not out of the ordinary here. That is business as usual. Want something to go from one point to another, it can be arranged on one of the modes of transportation.
What was not business as usual, or maybe it is, was at a stop along the way the conductor demanded that Zulu “dash” him. Pay him an additional sum on top of the fare she had already paid. He had stiffed her earlier out of the change due her when she paid her fare. Since it was a minuscule amount she had let it go without comment.
She refused to give him any more money. He refused to move the van until she did. Stalemate. They sat. She demanded that the police be called. They sat. She told the driver that she was a senior citizen and that he was complicit in what was happening by not moving the van. They sat.
Zulu began to chant. Yes chant. For she is Zulu-Sangoma, High Priestess of the “….Ancient Kemetic Temple….”; healer, Spiritual consultant, lecturer. She as usual was dressed in traditional African attire with the insignia of her status on display for those who can see to do so. She chanted from the Metu Neter, a text rooted in the Ancient Egyptian Spiritual Systems.
Africans have a deep belief in the existence of a Supreme Being. Religion is so deeply ingrained that business, and vehicles are named with religious quotations. The Religions of the Book (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and increasingly Mormons compete to mine the belief of Africans in a Supreme Being, for the purposes of a specific creed, much as multinational corporations and not a few governments mine Africa for her natural resources.
None of this is new, it has been going on for hundreds of years.
Co-existing with the other religions, and vibrant despite centuries long efforts to eradicate it is Ju ju. Ju ju is an African rooted belief system, some call magic. Its off-shoots took root in the Western hemisphere (Santeria, Lucume. Voodoo, Condomble, Obeah).Transplanted with enslaved Africans. That is how I first became aware of it.
(My father is from the Caribbean which retains African cultural residuals, and my mother from the southern region of the USA with its deep African cultural retentions manifesting in “root” beliefs).
Zulu continued to chant. The other passengers became restless, because they did not know what she was doing. They began to grumble. These factors convinced the driver to move on. When Zulu arrived at her destination she called me bursting with laughter. She couldn’t wait for her return trip to tell me.
In the afternoon she picked up her press release and met with a group of like minded women before returning home on yet another tro tro.
And for me another Ghana story, another learning experience noted .
4 thoughts on “TRO TRO”
This is an interesting look at another culture. Enjoyable and fascinating. Thank you for sharing.
Yes definitnitely. When my friend Bernard first moved to Ghana, it seemed to me like he was moving to Paradise. He described the beautiful ocean, the birds, the clean air and the Holistic Health and Spiritual center nearby where he was occupied in various physical and spiritual pursuits. All this beauty, but yet in the very shadow of the Door of No Return – the nearby castle where hundreds of thousands of captured Africans were brought to be forced through that door onto ships that carried them from their homeland to Europe and America where they would complete their journey as enslaved chattel, never to see their homeland again. It is an irony that my friend should live in such a place of natural beauty, juxtaposed against that horrific history. But still as my friend has done, many Black Americans are returning to that land to find some sort of peace in life that still, after all these hundreds of years, they are unable to find here in the United States or indeed in many other parts of the world. So this great and interesting story is another chapter in the life that is being rediscovered by my friend in an old land.
Thanks for this interesting story. I enjoyed reading it!
Thank you A. I really am grateful to my my friend for sharing these glimpses of life in Ghana today. Life will go on all over the world, however it works in whatever place life is found. Human beings will always find a way to make the wheels of progress turn, even on the Tro Tro.