imagine a 15 passenger van. now imagine that van has gone through years and years of driving on rough dirt roads, it doors being throw open and slammed closed with hardly any thought at all, the interior never worked on, the exterior never worked on, and possibly even the engine never worked on. Also now imagine that the owner of this van wants to fit more than 15 people in it, so he has added seats that fold down into the aisle. This is what a tro-tro looks like. They have no a/c, so if you get a seat by the window with the breeze blowing in, its your lucky day. Here a few pics:
The tro-tro system is somewhat like a bus system. People pile on and off whenever they please. The rate they pay corresponds with the how far they are going on the tro-tro. There is a driver and a “mate.” The mate sits on one of the fold down seats in the aisle, opening and closing the door for the passengers (which actually is somewhat difficult considering the state of the van. usually they slide it shut, then reach out the window and snap the back of the door into place. my brother tried to close it one time and practically knocked the whole thing off. luckily, they just laughed at the silly “obruni” that didn’t know how to close doors).
As the tro-tro drives down the road the mate leans out the window and shouts the destination extremely fast. If you don’t know what to listen for, you will have no idea what he is saying. For example when you hear, “Crah, Crah, Crah! Sirk, Sirk, Sirk!” He is actually saying “Accra, Accra, Accra! Circle, Circle, Circle.” I love it.
If you are getting on the tro-tro from a station, you wander around asking different mates where the “Accra” or “Kwabenya” tro-tro is and they point in a [very] general direction. When you finally find the correct tro-tro you have to sit in it and wait until it fills up. Then it leaves.
Here is a picture from a 3 hours tro-tro ride to Cape Coast. This was by far the nicest tro-tro I ever rode in. [This guy taught my friend, Lindsie, and I common phrases in 4 different African languages.]
In some weird way, I loved my daily tro-tro rides. I even enjoyed riding an hour on them into Accra central. Yes, they were dirty. Yes, they broke down all the time (I almost had to help push one once, but instead I just hopped on anther tro-tro because I was late). Yes, they need a paint job. But how can you beat this experience of being crammed into a van with a bunch of Africans? Conversations were always fun, the children (usually at least 3 to a space an adult would take up) would always stare, and the rides were almost like riding on a roller coaster. A very uncomfortable roller coaster that is.