Feature: The Olympics of living in Accra


It’s an extreme sport to navigate your way through the streets of Accra. At a time of a viral disease, much more skill is required to make it through the sea of human beings and get back home unscathed.

One significant feature of this Olympics of living in Accra is transportation. There’s a special category of the athletics of making it through the city named Catching A Trotro. It takes place every day at the rush hours of the day. Mostly, twice each day – in the mornings when everyone is going to town and at dusk when people are returning to their homes.

The game starts when a significant number of people have gathered at a bus stop/bus station, awaiting a trotro. That’s ‘On Your Marks. Everyone chooses their marks. Some people pace up and down at the bus stop, others find anything comfortable to sit on, in the absence of any such comfortable place to sit, some people prefer to lean against anything that provides good support for their backs. The last group of people, call them legends, stand at attention or in akimbo during this first session of the game. No one knows when this ‘on your marks’ time lasts but it ends when the people see an oncoming vehicle approaching. That’s ‘Get Set’.

At this time, the people would have picked themselves up from whatever position they were previously in. It’s important to collect and hold your personal belongings securely. This is because some unqualified folks join the tracks at this point and pick from unsuspecting athletes.

As the vehicle gets closer, people try to position themselves at exactly where they perceive the car will stop for them to embark. It takes a science one level down from the level of quantum physics to get this accurately. The variables needed to arrive conclusively at the exact spot the driver will stop include the speed at which the driver is cruising, the distance between where the prospective passengers are gathered and where the driver starts to apply the brakes and the sharpness of the driver’s brakes which is also a function of how old the car is. It is, however, difficult to calculate this last variable because most of Accra’s cars are either looking bad but have good interior machinery or a vice versa.

Other variables include parking space, the weather, the mood of the driver and his mate, the state of the economy and probably what music is playing in the car at that moment. Despite all these, the athletes must factor unforeseen variables in the calculations. A few people get it right. Others argue that this calculation is not necessary and we will come to them soon.

When the car stops and attempts to stop, an invisible gun goes off. That’s ‘Go!’ Those who get the stoppage point calculation right are those who get on first. But sometimes, they are plunged into an unknown hurdle race. As they have to make way for people already on the bus to disembark while they (the athletes) try to get on.

Remember the people I mentioned before who do not think the stoppage point calculation is necessary? Those guys pull a cheat card and try to enter the vehicle from any opening possible – through the back boot or the windows. You guessed right. All is fair in the game of catching a trotro.

Also, do you remember the unqualified athletes? Let call them by their real names now. Pickpockets. This is where they strike hottest. While people are fighting to get on the vehicle, they are also doing their best to rid them of anything possible. And when I say anything, I mean anything.

As with every race, sometimes, there are false starts. A vehicle pulls over that might be already full and they are trying to offload a person. Sometimes, it’s not a commercial vehicle as anticipated. On rare occasions, someone at the bus stop may have called the driver and they will stop to pick that one person alone. It’s very annoying to be involved in a false start. Many people return to the ‘Get Set’ mood first and when after a while they are satisfied that no vehicle is approaching, they go all the way back to ‘On Your Marks’.

Winners in this game are those who get seats on the bus. But that’s just one of the extreme sports they have to deal with in the city. There’s traffic, Ghana Police, the possibility of a vehicle breakdown on the way and a possible trotro fight. Anything is possible in this Accra and a dweller must be ready in season and out of season. Those who are unlucky in this Trotro Olympics know that so they don’t fret. They wait for the next bus and the struggle continues.

One thing is sure. Regardless of how tortuous this trotro race is, everyone gets home. And we sleep to race another day.

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