In early September, I found myself standing at the Okponglo junction waiting for a tro-tro heading towards Accra. It was the second day of my internship at Future Leaders Underprivileged Children’s Centre, and I hoped that I could remember the correct tro-tro routes to arrive by 8:30am. On my first day, I had traveled with a Ghanaian student at the University of Ghana who had made sure I knew the stops, but now it was time to prove that I could successfully navigate alone. Unfortunately, waiting for a tro-tro heading towards Accra seemed fruitless. Tro-tros driving in the direction of Spanner or Osu or Circle were common, yet those going towards Accra were uncharacteristically absent from the normal rush hour traffic. After an hour of narrowly avoiding the motorbikes who chose the sidewalk over the standstill traffic, I crammed into the last remaining seat of a turquoise tro-tro featuring the words “The Lord’s Prayer,” embossed over prayer hands on the rearview window. My prayers had been answered albeit on Ghana Man’s Time. Not even our painfully slow speed could temper my excitement at finally leaving the Okponglo roadside.
Soon, we reached 37, the station where I could catch another tro-tro to Tsui Bleo via Bush Road. My destination tested my Twi pronunciation, as I defied my American accent to yell back and forth with the mates to ensure I was in the correct van. Once we were on our way, I paid my fare with a five cedi bill. As the mate returned change, the businessman next to me began to yell at him aggressively in Twi. Even with my limited vocabulary, it was not hard to understand that the mate had charged me twenty pesewas more than the other passengers. Two minutes of rapid-fire Twi later, a twenty pesewas coin rested in my palm.
I reached my internship site after a final tro-tro stop and a fifteen minute walk. I entered the gates of Future Leaders expecting to feel slightly defeated after my long commute. But, as the students ran to greet me, all I felt was excitement and gratitude. Ghana is a country that values community, and these children welcomed me into theirs without regard for my skin color, accent, or culture. Similarly, when a stranger fights to ensure I am treated fairly, I feel as if I have been accepted into the community of commuters who ride the tro-tros each morning. Ghanaian transportation is truly for the people and by the people. In the midst of frequent catcalls and unwanted pictures, it is sometimes easy to forget that most Ghanaians are extremely hospitable. In Ghana, one of the popular phrases is, “You are invited.” Whenever my friends are eating, they usually smile at me and repeat this phrase, fully expecting me to reach over and take a bite of their food. My challenging morning transformed into a subtle invitation with every kindness extended by strangers.