After nearly 4 months in Ghana, you would think traveling around the greater Accra area by trotro would be commonplace, without surprises or excitement. One of the most wonderful things I love about Ghana, though, is that nothing is ever commonplace here. At least, not for me.
It’s a Saturday morning, and I’m on a quest to locate and interview a prominent professor from the University of Ghana for my research project on Ghanaian greetings. Now, I call it a quest because I have been attempting to meet with her for about 7 weeks now, and she is a difficult woman to track down. She told me she would be glad to talk with me almost 2 months ago, but has failed to show up to our appointments. No worries, she’s a busy woman, and I haven’t been in a hurry. Anyway, I finally obtained her cell phone number and called enough times to secure that she would be at the International Institute of Advanced Study all day Saturday, and I got directions from her secretary so that I could go after her myself. As with any directions in Ghana, to tell someone how to get somewhere, you have to tell a story. There are no street names or house numbers. Here is the story I was told on how to get there:
Trotro to Adenta – last stop.
Trotro to Oyarifa – School Junction.
Gravel road on right. (I learned this actually means “paved road.” There are really no gravel roads in Ghana, only paved and dirt. Mostly dirt.)
T-junction at transformer. (No mention that the transformer is hidden in the bushes.)
IIAS signpost. (it had fallen over in the dirt, but I found it.)
Love Street. (what is this?!? a street name? with a street sign?!?)
Next junction on right.
Black gate, cream walls.
If this seems a bit ambiguous to you, well, it did to me too. However, I had no problem finding it once I got to School Junction, and when I started looking confused trying to figure out if the walls I was standing outside of counted as “cream” or not (they apparently did not) a nice man on a bicycle asked where I was going and pointed me to the correct walls (which were not cream either, in my opinion.)
Anyway, backtrack, because there was indeed some slight trouble at the beginning:
I walk 15 minutes to the Blue Gate in my neighborhood (again, landmarks are everything in Ghana) and take a shared taxi to the front gate of the University, where I hop on a trotro to Adenta. So far, so good. But in the distance, I see a great swirl of black clouds looming ominously, I suddenly know that I will soon be getting very, very wet. My host sister Carolyn even warned me this morning that the radio had forecasted a storm coming from the northeast, but I don’t believe much of what the radio says around here, since in January they tried to forecast an earthquake and sent the whole of the country into a panic. (People were running around the streets at 4:00 in the morning, houses got broken into, it was a giant mess.) So anyway, now I’m wishing I wouldn’t have disregarded the weather warning, but what do you do? At least I’m in a vehicle.
Five minutes later I am seriously considering just asking the driver to pull over so I can turn around and go home. It’s 11:00 am, but looks like dusk, the clouds are so dark. The wind is whipping so wildly, the dust storm is unbelievable, dirt and garbage and small dogs flying everywhere. Someone was smart enough to start a burn pile on the side of the road before this happened, and flaming debris blows by for a little before we pass far enough away to escape the blaze. Everyone shuts up the windows of the trotro, which is moving at a snail’s pace due to horrendous traffic, and the windows steam up but we manage to stay dry as the water commences crashing down. Within ten minutes, there is a genuine river flowing down the side of the road, 6-feet wide and about 6 inches deep, by the looks of it, carrying trash and broken furniture, and even washing out a poorly parked taxi. The poor market women are wading through ankle-deep toffee-colored water between their wooden stalls.
It takes almost a half an hour before I get to the end of the Adenta route, but thank my lucky stars that the storm has moved on by then, and I, miraculously, have survived unscathed, clean and dry. Apparently, though, there was a flaw in my directions: the “last stop” i.e. where the trotro stops and parks, is not the “last stop” I was supposed to stop at. I get off and ask the nearest mate for “Ayarefah?” and he says, “Oh, dear lady, you have lost your way.”
The kindly mate shoes me onto his trotro and starts heading back to Accra, and I am thoroughly confused, but we get to the main junction I had passed a few blocks earlier and he says, “Dear lady, I will show you. Look, go and catch a car under the mango tree, see? You must pick a car under the mango tree.” And he points across the street, of course, silly me, to the mango tree. I wade through a small lake to the mango tree, board an Oyarifa trotro, and find the rest of my way fine. The rest of the story is indeed commonplace: I locate the professor, I get my interview, and I get on home, but the whole way I wonder when I will ever in my life get to catch a trotro under a mango tree after a thunderstorm again.