Tro-tro travel and slogans

20 01 2009

bus1Tro-tos are (often ancient) minibuses that have been fitted with 5 or 6 rows of bench seats that go across the width of the vehicle with a hinged seat in each row to allow passengers to reach the rows behind. If someone sitting at the back wants to get off early it involves all the people on hinged seats in front of the alighting passenger to get up and let them through.

Here in Tamale they only go between towns and won’t leave until every seat is taken, this can result in you sitting in sweltering heat waiting for hours for that last passenger going your way. Once every seat (between 25 – 30) has been sold they set off with the goats on the roof bleating and stamping their hooves and occasionally a guinea fowl fluttering in a basket beneath someone’s feet. Hopefully you’re not next to a “traditionally shaped African lady” and you aren’t too tall. Tro-tros are purgatory if you’re over 6 foot, forcing your knees next to your ears, rather than just darn uncomfortable for the rest of us.

Sometimes they need a bit of a push to start and often look like they’re held together by string and tape plus the flags, stickers and bunting obscuring the cracked windscreen. Given the complete lack of aisle or emergency exit any accidents are likely to be fatal. Once started and belching out black diesel fumes the next few hours are usually (relatively) pleasant, with a cooling breeze coming in through the windows and countryside rushing past. Here in the north people tend to sit in silence while jammed together although I have experienced “cure-all lotion” salesmen plying his patter on a captive audience and in the more Christian south they sometimes start with a prayer (and occasionally a religious song). In terms of crowding, discomfort and polite silence it isn’t that unlike travelling on the London tube in rush hour. One of the best descriptions of tro-tro travel is in my friend Richard’s blog.

Originally I started this post to talk about the slogans the tro-tros have pasted across the tops of their windscreens. These vary and quite a few are in local dialects but virtually all tro-tros as well as lorries (trucks) have them. The ones I can read fall into various categories, the majority are probably religious: “Insha Allah”, “Merciful God”, “God’s Power” or “Jesus is Lord” types. Some are admonitions: “It’s nice to be nice”, “Do the right thing” (sometime reduced to “Do the thing”), “Be good” or “Be kind”. The instruction “Don’t forget” always leaves me worried that I may have forgotten whatever it was I wasn’t supposed to have. How would I know?

The remainder are mostly either weird or indecipherable. Examples include:

“Make me nice” – a little threatening perhaps?
“Observers are worried” – They probably are.
“Sweet Mother” – Probably uttered by the worried observers.
“No hurry in life” – describes many bus and taxi drivers approach (occasionally ironic).
“Don’t copy” – I wasn’t planning to.
“No burger” – ???? (occasionally you see just “burger”)
“Don’t mine me” – !?!?! Is it likely to happen?
“Don’t verse me” – warding off random acts of poetry?
“Who knows the future?” – An indication of the likelihood of your reaching the destination perhaps?
“People forget” – they certainly do (see above)
“Except God” – Actually the last part of a Ghanaian proverb – “No one shall know both the beginning and end of the universe except God

Any other good ones (or explanations) warmly welcomed.

Observers are worried

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2 responses

20 01 2009
Ellen

I guess seatbelts are out of the question then!! Happy travelling.

21 01 2009
Saira

I liked this post. :) Very descriptive.

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