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Posts Tagged ‘tro-tro’

Discovering things about myself

I inadvertently created a son out of thin air yesterday. That’s what happens when you can’t understand someone and instead of asking ‘what?’, just go along with it and pretend like you do. At least I only made a fool of myself.

Here’s how it went:

I boarded a tro-tro and a man who had just been trying to sell me DVDs squishes in next to me and an older woman, even though there were plenty of open seats. Sure enough, he turned toward me and began asking my name, where I’m from, etc. I had to ask him to repeat questions a few times and began just answering simply, ‘ohh ok, mmhmm, yes’.

So when he asked me if I had mumble mumble, I figured he was wondering if I was in a relationship and told him yes. Then he asked, ‘how many?’ and I thought he was being coy, so I told him, ‘one.’

When he followed that up with, ‘boy or girl?’ I realized I had misunderstood. Homosexuality is illegal in Ghana, so I figured he wasn’t asking if I had a boyfriend or girlfriend. He was asking if I had a  son or daughter.

So I did what anyone would do and fabricated a two-year-old son, figuring maybe it would deter him. Nope. He proceeded to hound me for my cell phone number and I had to give him the real one because he called it to check. When he asked for my email address I told him I didn’t have one. He saw right through that, but I stuck to my story.

When he finally departed, I turned to the older woman next to me and gave her a look that said, ‘that was ridiculous.’ She replied, ‘He is a fool.’ Keep in mind, it’s considered harsh to call someone a fool here. She repeated her statement when he started calling me ten minutes later.

In addition to my non-existent child, I’ve also discovered that I don’t enjoy packing. Well, have been reminded of it. But who does? That is why tomorrow will be hectic in the best possible way because I’ll wake up in Paris on Thursday! Now I’m off to enjoy my last full day in Ghana.

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In just a few short days my surroundings are going to be changing pretty dramatically. No more goats, chickens, lizards, tro-tros, balancing acts, orange dirt or public urination. No more smelling fresh-cut oranges and coconuts in one breath and sewage in the next. No more shouts of ‘obruni’, proclamations of love or hissing for attention. I’ll see bits and pieces elsewhere, but not this unique combination.

Nine weeks really flew by, and not just for me. I have many stories to catch up on when I get home. New jobs, a baby, another year of school, traveling around the U.S., fall sports, new experiences, new cities; all of which I’m looking forward to hearing about.

But I will miss Ghana and its colors, vivid and full of life. Just like the people, the music and the culture.

Green and yellow.

And, just because, some humorous taxi incidents that happened this past week. I won’t really miss any of this:

  • My taxi ran out of gas. At least, that’s what the driver attributed our crawling to, but it’s hard to say when the dashboard doesn’t work. I made it home, though, after he hailed another taxi for us.
  • I announced my wedding next year. That is, after a different taxi driver professed his love for me. Then he saw the ring (on my middle finger) and was distraught. I decided to go with it and started talking about my ‘fiance’. He was silent the rest of the way.
  • When I arrived at my destination (this is a third taxi), the driver informed me he had no change. So, I waited while he ran around the street asking other drivers to break my 10. He had no luck and instead bought me credits for my phone, which I needed anyway.

Tomorrow I’m waking up early for a boat ride!

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Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

– Mark Twain

Orienting myself

It’s a scary thing to do. I know I have had some doubts along the way that I’d be able to make this trip on my own, but I’m so grateful that I did. As my times in Ghana nears its end, I’m surprised at how familiar I’ve become with my surroundings.

When I hop in a cab and ask the driver, ‘We’re near Adabraka, right?’ I often get shockingly pleased looks. They’re happy I’ve figured my way around (for the most part), but maybe just a little sad that I now know a fair rate for most trips and have opted to take tro-tros to save money.

I’ve also picked up a little bit of Twi, a language commonly spoken in Accra. When I meet knew people, typically a daily occurrence, they often ask, “Wo ho te sεn?”  (meaning “How are you?”) followed by “Yε frε wo sεn?” (“What is your name?) I’m able to answer those two questions, which usually amuses my new acquaintance.

Animal lover

The chickens and goats wandering around still amuse me. I don’t think  that will change. I continue to take pictures of them, which I’m sure is odd to the locals but I am used to stares at this point!

Goats on a wall.

Hiding?

Look closely for the third chicken that I didn't notice at first.

Goats galore.

Learning and exploring

Yesterday I went to the Eastern Region for the first time, a mountainous area of Ghana. The town of Koforidua is nestled in between mountains, so we took some time to hike partially up one of them. To get there we had to traipse through people’s property, which didn’t seem to bother anyone.

Heading toward the mountain we climbed up.

A house along the way.

An old truck undergoing work.

A work in progress.

Along the way we also saw a range of vegetation and plants. Did you know this is how pineapples grow? I didn’t!

A pineapple just beginning to grow.

Almost ripe.

Plantains growing.

Plantains are very common here and grow in an interesting way. The purple part of the plant, as I understood it, nourishes the plantains and gets smaller as they multiply and grow further down. The bananas, below, grow similarly but look a little different.

Bananas growing.

We also saw a cocoa tree, which grows pods that hold the cocoa beans. Climbing the tree is dangerous, for both the person and the tree, because its branches are weak. Therefore, a long pole with a knife on the end is used to remove the pods that turn orange when ripe.

Cocoa pods, up in the branches.

An unknown flower...another thing to learn.

As far up as the path allowed us to go.

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Public Transportation

Hopping in a tro-tro, you’ll be surrounded by new faces. Sometimes everyone just sits in silence, contemplating their day or where they’re off to next. Other times people will make attempts to strike up a conversation. Especially if you’re stuck in traffic and attempting to take your mind off of the fact that you haven’t moved inches in six minutes and the driver turned the engine off.

I did this last night, as I started to relate wondering how much longer we’d be in traffic to watching a pot of water boil. You know the saying.

A crippled man was walking between the lines of traffic, asking for money. The woman next to me turned her head, having seen this sort of thing in different forms. Having had a similar encounter with a little boy before boarding the tro-tro, I told her about it and soon she asked where I was headed. My final stop was on her way home and she offered to drive together, once we got to her car. BOOM, a friend (yes, a reference from ‘The Office’) .

Please Let Go

The experience with the little boy went something like this: I was tired and walking down the sidewalk toward the tro-tro station and saw a young boy coming toward me. This had happened once before,  but I remembered too late. His hands enveloped my left wrist and he looked up at me with pleading, big brown eyes.

He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. His ragged clothes and dirt-smudged face told me what he wanted. My heart went out to him, but I’ve been told that once you give money you become an easy target.

So I told him I didn’t have anything, feeling guilty because I was obviously lying. I had a bag of leftover lunch in one hand and a recent purchase in the other.

We’ve all encountered this in various forms. A homeless man in Cleveland shaking a cup, a person handing you a card proclaiming they are deaf and asking for donations, a man standing near the highway exit in Athens with a sign telling you he’s been unemployed and served for our country. We become immune, casting them off as beggars. But what if your dime helped sustain them for the day? What if their stories are true? I’m still feeling conflicted, if you can’t tell.

A few minutes of unsuccessful pleading later, two men walked up and told him to let go, giving him 50 pesewas. I walked away, flustered and wondering why I hadn’t just given him some loose change.

Fast Friends

Back to making friends. The simple ability to relate to someone established a fast friendship. We chatted throughout the car ride about my experiences here and compared cultures.

Unlike some of the people here who proclaim to be friends with me and then ask when they can come visit me in the U.S. (mostly taxi drivers), we just exchanged info and left it at that. Another person whose life I’ve gotten to know a little more about. I’m still wondering about that little boy’s…

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From Accra to Cape Coast and back.

Friday 9/23/11

The view from a tro-tro.

A car repair shop in Nima.

Dumpsters in Nima.

A sunset in Nima, a portion of Accra, illuminates the telephone wires and antennas.

A different view of the sunset as a shop begins to glow.

A station in Accra just after dusk.

A man selling children's shoes at the station.

Saturday 9/24/11:

An attempt at taking a picture of the ocean through the window.

After doing a little searching on google, I think this is a weaver bird of some sort. It's hanging on its nest.

Look at all of them!

A lizard and his shadow.

This crocodile positioned itself between me and my purse.

A hillside full of houses in Cape Coast.

A shop in Cape Coast.

Sunday 9/26/11:

View of the ocean on a sunny day in Cape Coast.

Looking out from the overhang at Brenu Beach.

Palm trees at the beach.

A cute little girl who wouldn't stop smiling in our shared taxi.

Accra's lights at night, blurred by the tro-tro's speed.

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Flying sardines

You know the game ‘sardines’? Where one person hides and everyone else has to find that person, squishing into the hiding space until the last one looking becomes ‘it’ the next round? Sometimes I feel like I’m playing that game when I’m riding on a tro-tro. Especially Sunday night, trying to come back from Cape Coast when there weren’t many options.

VYING FOR A SEAT

As much as I wanted to just stay in Cape Coast, I knew I had to go back to Accra and having to wait for a decent ride was frustrating. Sure there were some tro-tros and buses that pulled up, but they were either in bad shape or had a TV in them. You would think I would want to have a TV to help the two hours pass.

Wrong.

Ghanaian and Nigerian soap operas are the usual entertainment and the sound quality is bad. So when someone cries or yells in the show (which is often)  I feel like I might lose my mind or go deaf, or both. Yes I’m being dramatic, but it’s so loud and I can’t nap or listen to music, let alone hear myself think.

After waiting for an hour, we finally got a seat that many people were fighting over because it was a newer van. They packed us in, four per row, and we were on our way.

HURTLING ALONG

Again I asked myself, ‘what is overspeeding?’ (reminder that there are signs on the roads reminding drivers that ‘overspeeding kills’) Our driver did not seem to worry about the definition or consequences. I have yet to see anyone pulled over and my friend said it really only happens during daylight. Convenient.

The 50 km/hr ( approx. 30 mi/hr) speed limit was insignificant to him; we did double it and then some. Granted, the roads were paved, but when you have 22 people crammed into a van and do not slow down in the slightest for speed bumps, it is scary.

I’ve taken to closing my eyes at times when I don’t know what’s going to happen.

For instance, when we got stuck behind a line of cars who were driving slower than us our driver wanted to pass (they say ‘overpass’) them. Well as we started to do so, the car ahead of us did too. Regardless we kept going. That is, until a bunch of passengers started yelling at the driver, ‘take your time!’

NOT AGAIN!

Shortly after we had driven over another set of speed bumps as if they were non-existent, I heard a strange bumping noise. My mind flashed back to a tro-tro ride when the tire had popped and I glanced around the van to see if anyone else was alarmed.

I was not alone. We were trying to figure out what it was because the driver paid no attention to it. Right as I was envisioning us careening off the road on three tires, I realized the passenger in the front seat had not buckled and, while the van bumped along, his seat belt clanked against the door frame.

Crisis averted.

FRESH AIR, PLEASE

Throughout this 90 minute ordeal (naturally we made it back in good time, passing up a van that left at least 20 minutes before us) the smell of body odor occasionally wafted in my direction. The gentleman to my left was wearing a coat, despite the heat of the day, and kept dozing off while leaning on the seat in front of us. Due to his positioning, his armpits were exposed and he was also leaning into me when we turned corners. I nudged him a few times, then just gave up. I knew I needed a shower, too.

A SERENE WEEKEND

Thankfully, I had a good time in Cape Coast and it was sunny, unlike the overcast skies of our last trip. Along with the suspended walkway at Kakum and poking crocodiles, I also walked around the town a bit and went to a beautiful beach on Sunday.

Needless to say, I reflected on those calm moments while flying over speed bumps and holding my breath.

Brenu Beach, a relatively secluded spot just west of Cape Coast.

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I got onto the tro-tro this morning in a daze. The 20 other people on it were all silent and I stared out the window, lost in my thoughts.

When someone started tapping on my shoulder, I turned around quickly and found that everyone in the back of the tro-tro was staring at me. They motioned to a woman on one of the back benches. I smiled, assuming she wanted to talk to the Obruni or something.

Their response to my smile was more gesturing and incredulous looks. I then realized that it had nothing to do with me. The woman just needed to exit the tro-tro and my seat was blocking her path.

I spent the rest of my 90 minute ride attentive and ready to move when necessary and was reminded that it’s not all about me.

In other news, the worms appear to be dying!

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