I negotiated a fare with the taxi driver and he took me to the tro-tro station, helped me carry my bags, lead me into the station directly to the man selling the tickets, then said “I wish you a safe journey”. I only asked him just to drop me off in front of the station. So I gave 2 pieces of my luggage, a large backpack and hand bag to the guys loading the tro-tro, and quickly bought a ticket for there were only 4 other seats/tickets left. I guy around my age suggested I do so quickly before they’re sold out. Then he led me onto the tro-tro to find a seat.
Let me pause for second and try and describe what a tro-tro is. Basically it’s a somewhat larger than mini-van that has been modified to fit as many people as possible, so bench seats, little seats that fold down in the middle isle, seats facing each other, and just any space where you could fit half a person is a seat. Tro-tro’s are one of, if not the cheapest mode of transportation, my 4 hour ride cost me 4 Ghc (Ghana cedis), and they way it works is that it has to fill in order to leave, so being early and the first one there is a disadvantage as you can wait for a couple hours potentially. I don’t even think there’s scheduled times, you simply show up get a ticket/seat and wait for it to fill. It’s probably the most uncomfortable way to travel in Ghana as some volunteers have compared it to a can of sardines. The tro I was on probably should have seated 10 people but rather had around 25. But it’s an interesting way to get up and close with Ghanaians, literally. Sure it’s hot and uncomfortable but most people can’t afford another way of getting around, so who am I to judge?
I ended up sitting squished in the middle of 4 people (2 on each side), half on the seat and up off the ground just enough so that my feet were dangling, and to top it off I had two bags, one of which was pretty heavy with my laptop. But there was an adorable little infant on board that was like a little sponge soaking up everything around her or him (not sure, as kids aren’t dressed in either pink or blue, or with long or short hair, like in Canada). So it wasn’t all that bad. It was also pretty amusing that at one stop a guy decided to climb out the window instead of climbing across 15 people, a good decision in my books. As we rolled on my mind was all over the place thinking about this and that, worrying, reminiscing, enjoying the scenery, having difficulty with the scenery (like poor living conditions), thinking of the past and future, soaking up the present, just all over the place in an incoherent fashion. I would have slept if I didn’t have to adjust my bag every so often to switch the (mild) pain from one leg/cheek to the next.
We finally arrived at the station in Bolga (capital of Upper East, about 40mins from Navrongo) and my legs thanked god for the relief of walking again, and we piled out of the tro to gather our belongings that where tarped and roped to the roof and crammed in the trunk-like space. I watched him empty the trunk, got my big pack, then waited for my next bag but didn’t see it, so I just waited for him to take it off the roof. As I was waiting the guy emptying the luggage was bugging me for a quasi-mandatory 1GHc tip which I didn’t see others pay so thought it was a ‘white-man tax’ and brushed him off until realizing that my bag was missing. It wasn’t there. We looked on the tro, in the trunk, and on the roof and found nothing. My first reaction was muttering swear words to myself, while remembering how I packed this bag as if was supposed to go missing. I purposefully and consciously packed the least important things in this pack because it’s small and easy to lose. Not sure if that lead to it going missing or simply preventing a great loss, whatever the case it just wasn’t there and I wasn’t happy. I especially was angry because I had to pay 2Ghc on top of my ticket price for sole reason that I had 2 pieces of luggage, which I strongly felt wasn’t a typical fee but rather a ‘white-man tax’ (what I mean is just charging westerns extra because they come from richer countries). But I paid it and got over myself and wasn’t all hung up on it like I have been in the past (last summer). In addition, I remember learning from long term volunteers last summer to watch your things get loaded onto the tro but I felt rushed to get a seat so I put my faith in the fact that I’ve never had a problem and doubted anyone would allow someone to steal, for people know whose stuff is whose and in plain view.
At the station in Bolga I was beginning to seriously doubt and question this faith I had, and thought about how naive I was to just to trust that my stuff would be ok. As soon as it was clear that my bag was missing a guy my age, the same one from before, was asking the guys unloading and the asking the driver questions in Dagbani (a local language). I clarified with everyone that I had 4 bags, 2 were with me, and I gave 2 to be packed, and I then described the missing bag. The guy my age, Yakubu, was also going to Navrongo but instead stuck around with me for quite some time making sure that things were cleared up. We found the driver, Yakubu explained to him the situation, there was some stressful discussion, and the driver called Tamale and found out the bag was left behind (not packed onto the tro) and was put on the next tro to Bolga. Only after Yakubu and I got this information did he then leave for Navrongo like he had originally planned.
So the next part of my day was spent at the Bolga station. I ended up sitting with the tro-tro/taxi drivers on a bench up against a tro in the middle of the station. A few drivers explained to me that the next car would bring my bag so I should just wait there with them because the car will come to this location in the station (the station is divided up among geographical destinations like the Tamale section, the Navrongo section, etc. I’ll explain the station more in depth in the next post). I guess it’s good to mention that Lauren (a short term volunteer) was waiting for me in Navrongo to take me to the compound where he lives because there’s an extra room that I’ll be staying in. And, my phone battery was about to die leaving me with no form of communication. But again, without fail, while I was chatting with guys next to me I asked some questions and they lead me to a place to charge my phone and a washroom (that was much needed in a crowded urban landscape). One guy owned a shop right by where we were sitting and told me to put my stuff in his store so I could walk about. He ensured it would be safe (which it was) and before he left for the night he made sure to tell a few guys to watch for my bag to come and take care of me. While we were sitting and talking he bought me some dried dates after asking me if I had them before. Another note here, I hadn’t eaten since about 8am aside for 3 bananas around noon, and it was about 630pm now. I found this interesting because he like many others up North here are fasting during the day because if I’m not mistaken it’s the month of Ramadan for Muslims meaning people fast from sun up to sun down and eat real early and real late, so I broke my unintentional fast about 25mins early with the same food (dates) used by him and other people who follow Islam to break the fast at a certain time of day.
So I ended up getting my bag at about 9pm when the tro finally came from Tamale, during the waiting I sat and talked with Kojo, a teenager working for the guy who owned the shop, Megan (EWB staff) and her boyfriend Dan came and brought me food and suggested a guest house to stay in.
I took a taxi from the station and again trusted that the taxi driver knew where the guest house is because after asking a friend he said he knew. Taxi drivers, in my experience, always know where things are, but not this one. We drove out of town on the main road and the guest house was nowhere to be found. We stopped and asked people for directions 3 times and the third time we met Makib who apparently is a Ghanaian tour guide (Bolga gets the most tourists of the upper east region I believe) and knew the guest house which is new (why the taxi driver didn’t know it) and took some of my bags and walked me to the place and giving me his number if I needed anything else or if I wanted to just hang out.
Aside from all my digressions and scatter-brained writing here, one thing that habitually strikes me is how hospitable Ghanaians are. I mean I’ve asked people on the street, complete strangers, questions about where this is, or how to find this, or anything and I’ve received nothing but genuine honest help and often much more. I sometimes feel like I’m a child surrounded by a loving, helpful family. Exaggerated? Of course. Not everyone is like that, but from my experience the majority of people I encounter are more than willing to help people out, and not just foreigners.
(I haven’t put in the time to proof read my blog posts, so my apologies if I leave out an important word or something)